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Former CIA Director: We Didn't Adequately Interrogate the Christmas Day Bomber

4:20 PM, Jan 30, 2010 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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In a hard-hitting, must-read op-ed that will run in tomorrow's Washington Post, former CIA Director Michael Hayden writes that the decision to Mirandize Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was a mistake. "We got it wrong in Detroit on Christmas Day."

Hayden, who comes to these issues with the valuable perspective of a man who has known the intelligence community from a variety senior positions, writes:

We allowed an enemy combatant the protections of our Constitution before we had adequately interrogated him. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is not "an isolated extremist." He is the tip of the spear of a complex al-Qaeda plot to kill Americans in our homeland.

In the 50 minutes the FBI had to question him, agents reportedly got actionable intelligence. Good. But were there any experts on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the room (other than Abdulmutallab)? Was there anyone intimately familiar with any National Security Agency raw traffic to, from or about the captured terrorist? Did they have a list or photos of suspected recruits?

When questioning its detainees, the CIA routinely turns the information provided over to its experts for verification and recommendations for follow-up. The responses of these experts -- "Press him more on this, he knows the details" or "First time we've heard that" -- helps set up more detailed questioning.

None of that happened in Detroit. In fact, we ensured that it wouldn't. After the first session, the FBI Mirandized Abdulmutallab and -- to preserve a potential prosecution -- sent in a "clean team" of agents who could have no knowledge of what Abdulmutallab had provided before he was given his constitutional warnings. As has been widely reported, Abdulmutallab then exercised his right to remain silent.

Hayden argues that the people who made these decisions are not "lazy" or "stupid."  But, he writes, they have become conditioned to think about terrorism in a particular way. And this new mentality comes from the top -- from President Obama.

Two days after his inauguration, President Obama issued an executive order that limited all interrogations by the U.S. government to the techniques authorized in the Army Field Manual. The CIA had not seen the final draft of the order, let alone been allowed to comment, before it was issued. I thought that odd since the order was less a legal document -- there was no claim that the manual exhausted the universe of lawful techniques -- than a policy one: These particular lawful techniques would be all that the country would need, at least for now...

Even tough government organizations, such as those in the intelligence community, figure out pretty quickly what their political masters think is not acceptable behavior. The executive order that confined interrogations to the Army Field Manual also launched a task force to investigate whether those techniques were sufficient for national needs. Few observers believed that the group would recommend changes, and to date, no techniques have been added to the manual...

Some may celebrate that the current Justice Department's perspective on the war on terrorism has become markedly more dominant in the past year. We should probably understand the implications of that before we break out the champagne. That apparently no one recommended on Christmas Day that Abdulmutallab be handled, at least for a time, as an enemy combatant should be concerning. That our director of national intelligence, Denny Blair, bravely said as much during congressional testimony this month is cause for hope.

Actually, Blair suggested that the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), announced by the administration in August, should have been called in. A government spokesman later pointed out that the group does not yet exist.

Hayden links the treatment of Abdulmutallab to the political decisions to make public CIA memos on interrogation and to investigate our interrogators and argues, pointedly, that the president has his priorities backwards.

He writes: "There's a final oddity. In August, the government unveiled the HIG for questioning al-Qaeda and announced that the FBI would begin questioning CIA officers about the alleged abuses in the 2004 inspector general's report. They are apparently still getting organized for the al-Qaeda interrogations. But the interrogations of CIA personnel are well underway."

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