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Three Different Accounts of Abdulmutallab's Interrogation

What's the truth?

11:45 PM, Feb 1, 2010 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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FBI agents questioned him at the hospital for just under an hour. They did not give him the Miranda warning, which advises suspects that anything they say can be used against them at trial, citing an exemption that allows them first to seek crucial information on any pending crime.

During the questioning, one source said, Abdulmutallab suggested that other terrorism attempts were in the works. "He was making comments like, 'Others were following me.' And that is a circumstance where you've got a potential disaster, that there are others out there and you don't have to Mirandize him right away."

But the questioning stopped when doctors said they needed to sedate Abdulmutallab to treat his injuries. At that point, the sources said, the agents backed off.

"The two agents who interviewed him are very experienced counter-terrorism agents," a source said. "They've been around a long time and have traveled internationally. And the Detroit area has the largest Muslim community in the country."

When Abdulmutallab awakened, a second team of FBI agents was sent in. Authorities thought he might be willing to say even more to the second set of agents.

"We had to see if he was still willing to talk," another source said. "And it was pretty quickly apparent to them that he wasn't. He had had a change of mind. It was only after establishing that with some confidence that they decided to go ahead and Mirandize him."

Three different accounts.  Which one is more plausible?  The Washington Post story fails to mention that the second interview was to have involved a fresh team of interrogators.  

That's a huge detail to leave out -- either the Post reporters (three of them) didn't know it or they chose to omit it because it ran counter to the pro-administration storyline they were peddling (and with Walter Pincus sharing a byline, that's always a distinct possibility). Whatever the explanation, it does not inspire confidence.

The LA Times story does include the fact that it was a second team that attempted to talk to Abdulmutallab after his medical treatment. But they give no explanation as to why the FBI would replace a team with whom Abdulmutallab had felt comfortable enough to talk openly for 50 minutes, claiming that "authorities thought he might be willing to say even more to the second set of agents." Why did authorities believe this? If the initial interrogation was as successful as numerous administration officials have since claimed, why would "authorities" make any changes to the interrogation process that might result in Abdulmutallab feeling less comfortable or being less forthcoming?  The LA Times account leaves us wondering.

The AP story -- the first and most thorough -- provides the obvious answer: the second team of FBI agents was a "clean team," sent in with the express purpose of Mirandizing Abdulmutallab so that his statements might be used by prosecutors.

And as noted, three sources familiar with Abdulmutallab's interrogations tell TWS that is exactly what happened.  It will be interesting to see how the story is told at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday.  Dennis Blair and Leon Panetta sit atop bureaucracies that are not at all happy about the opportunities missed to gain valuable intelligence after Abdulmutallab was Mirandized.  If Blair and Panetta voice the administration line -- that nothing much more would have been learned -- they risk further alienating an intelligence community that is increasingly bitter about its treatment by the Obama administration and, in particular, Attorney General Eric Holder.

A final note.  This quote has to go down as the worst attempt at spin since the Abdulmutallab story broke on Christmas Day. In describing the agents who first questioned Abdulmutallab, a source told the LA Times: "They've been around a long time and have traveled internationally."

As one wry observer remarked: If those are the qualifications for an interrogator these days, half of the flight attendants for Northwest Airlines could have been called in to talk to Abdulmutallab.

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