Imminent attack, Democrat hypocrisy, and the Christmas Day bomber is talking?
Yesterday, intelligence officials took to Capitol Hill to let Congress know that based on recent information they had obtained (read: chatter) that an al Qaeda attack is imminent within the next three to six months:
Al Qaeda can be expected to attempt an attack on the United States in the next three to six months, senior U.S. intelligence officials told Congress Tuesday.
The terrorist organization is deploying operatives to the United States to carry out new attacks from inside the country, including "clean" recruits with a negligible trail of terrorist contacts, CIA Director Leon Panetta said. Al Qaeda is also inspiring homegrown extremists to trigger violence on their own, Panetta added.
The annual assessment of the nation's terror threats provided no startling new terror trends, but amplified growing concerns since the Christmas Day airline attack in Detroit that militants are growing harder to detect and moving more quickly in their plots.
"The biggest threat is not so much that we face an attack like 9/11. It is that Al Qaeda is adapting its methods in ways that oftentimes make it difficult to detect," Panetta told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Al Qaeda is increasingly relying on new recruits with minimal training and simple devices to carry out attacks, the CIA chief said as part of the annual assessment of national threats provided to Congress by the top five U.S. intelligence officials.
Panetta also warned of the danger of extremists acting alone: "It's the lone-wolf strategy that I think we have to pay attention to as the main threat to this country," he said.
Does this come as a surprise? Not at all. In fact, I expected this change in strategy to focus on those that are a real pain in the @$$ to trace. I'd even say it's a wonder why al Qaeda has taken so long to adapt itself. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy that al Qaeda has been incompetent up to this point; engaging in guerilla tactics against US and coalition forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere across the globe. But we need to remember that their ultimate goal is to hit the US, and it's Western allies, again; as often and as devastating as possible.
The fact that they're looking to either homegrown terrorists, like Nidal Hassan (the Ft. Hood terrorist) or those that lack any significant ties to al Qaeda shows that they are adapting their tactics. Using smaller devices (a la Jose Padilla) and random targets makes the ability to track these people is much like looking for a needle in a haystack. But the fact remains that al Qaeda is looking at ways to hit us again, and it could be within the next few months. It won't be a 9-11-like attack, that they're aware of, but it will be one that will do exactly what they want to do: utilize fear and terror to strike at America.
But before the Congress received this report, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid took to the floor of the Senate to accuse Republicans of "undermining national security":
Far from embracing calls for bipartisanship now that Republicans have a 41st senator, Harry Reid is acting as though he has nothing to lose and is taking down Republicans at every turn.
The majority leader opened the Senate on Tuesday with a caustic floor speech accusing Republicans of undermining national security because they had filibustered a series of high-level national security nominations. Reid — who is trailing badly in polls at home and appears to be losing control of his chamber — charged the GOP with playing “games” with homeland security.
His tirade, in which he blamed Republicans for blocking homeland security nominations while terrorists plotted domestic attacks, came a day after he told a Las Vegas talk show host that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has to “get over” his 2008 presidential loss.
“Republicans have repeatedly asked fearful families to put their concerns on hold while they score political points and play partisan games,” Reid said Tuesday. “Why? Because Republican senators refuse to let this body hold a vote on the highly capable people the president has asked to serve in those roles.”
Harry Reid's got some nerve. This is a man who claimed that the operations in the theater of Iraq were "lost," and that the surge intitiated by President Bush was a "failure" before all the troops were even in place. That sort of rhetoric undermines a mission and tears down the morale of the men and women in theater. If anyone is undermining national security, the Democrats have an eight year-plus track record of doing it.
Addiotionally, it wasn't the Republicans who decided that Nidal Hassan wasn't a terrorists (hence the "don't-jump-to-conclusions" soundbite from the president in the wake of that attack). It wasn't Republicans who demanded Abdulmutallab be mirandized and charged in civilian, criminal court. And it sure as Hell wasn't Republicans who started dismantling the interrogation program that was instituted by the Bush administration. It was the Democrats. They're the ones who decided that the interrogation program wasn't needed any longer, and the legal enhanced interrogation techniques were more of a burden than a boon to the United States. If Harry Reid wants to point fingers as to which party is undermining national security he'd better start pointing at a mirror.
Finally, Umar Abdulmutallab is supposedly talking to interrogators even after being mirandized. (I say "supposedly" because the leak comes from an anonymous source, which always raises an eyebrow.):
The Nigerian man accused of trying to use a bomb hidden in his underwear to bring down a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas has been cooperating with investigators since last week and has provided fresh intelligence in multiple terrorism investigations, officials said Tuesday. ...
In the days following the failed bombing, a pair of FBI agents flew to Nigeria and persuaded Abdulmutallab's family to help them. When the agents returned to the U.S., Abdulmutallab's family came, too, according to a senior administration official briefed on the case. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
FBI officials continue to question Abdulmutallab, working in collaboration with CIA and other intelligence authorities, the official said. Obama has received regular updates on the interrogation, according to the official.
While the interrogation continued, White House and intelligence officials quietly seethed as political rivals accused them of putting lives at risk. That criticism peaked last weekend when Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, in the weekly Republican address, accused the administration of having "a blind spot when it comes to the war on terrorism."
Collins said the administration "undoubtedly prevented the collection of valuable intelligence about future terrorist threats to our country."
Authorities had hoped to keep Abdulmutallab's cooperation secret while they continued to investigate his leads, but details began to trickle out during testimony on Capitol Hill, where FBI Director Robert Mueller and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair confirmed authorities continued to get intelligence in Abdulmutallab's case.
"It is also my understanding that Mr. Abdulmutallab has provided valuable information. Is that correct?" Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein asked.
"Yes," Mueller replied.
Mueller then confirmed that the interrogation has continued despite the fact that the suspect had been advised of his right to have a lawyer and remain silent.
Could this be true? Again, it's a possibility. In reading Marc Thiessen's new book "Courting Disaster" I've learned that several detainees started singing like canaries when they were in our custody, without the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, simply because they knew what they faved if they didn't talk. In fact, Mr. Thiessen noted that several detainees were tough nuts to crack until they were finally cracked; that is, when they reached the point they could no longer hold out, they revealed what they knew and were relived to do so. Why? Because they had been told that, to honor Allah, they were to hold out as long as possible, then instructed to tell all they knew. Consider it a sort of reaching Allah with a clear conscience, if you will. Our interrogators learned this with the questioning of Abu Zubaydah.
He confirmed to interrogators that "brothers who are captured and interrogated are permitted by Allah to provide information when they believe they have reached the limit of their ability to withhold it in the face of psychological and physical hardship." Mr. Thiessen also notes that after being waterboarded, Zubaydah thanked his interrogators and told them "You must do this to all the brothers." The techniques lifted a moral burden from the shoulders of the terrorists. That revelation was an important discovery for CIA interrogators.
If Abdulmutallab is being cooperative, that's great. If anything he's revealed was included in the assessment given to Congress yesterday by intelligence officials, that's even better. But we'd still be happier if Abdulmutallab were at Gitmo being interrogated by the CIA as opposed to the FBI. That's not to say that the FBI can't handle it, but the CIA is better at this. (Don't believe me? Get Mr. Thiessen's book and read it thoroughly. 99% of the terrorists at Gitmo never experienced the enhanced interrogation techniques used on KSM and Zubaydah. They talked willingly just from the fear of facing those techniques, or were broken down by interrogators in a minimal amount of incarceration.)
It's time the Obama administration started to get back on offense against our enemies, and the CIA interrogation program would do exactly that. We'd be in the know, and we'd get the intelligence we need to roll up these cells and plans before they got off the ground.
ADDENDUM: Sorry to add more to this post, but there are some relevant observations made by some people today. First, Byron York isn't buying the change in story coming from the administration:
The Washington Post, citing "Obama administration sources," reports Abdulmutallab "has been providing FBI interrogators with useful intelligence about his training and contacts since last week." The Politico quotes a "law enforcement source" saying Abdulmutallab has provided "useful, current intelligence." And ABC News, citing a "senior administration official," reports that the intelligence "has been disseminated throughout the intelligence community."
The reports represent a striking turnaround in the administration's position. Ever since the public learned that authorities had just 50 minutes to question Abdulmutallab before he was read his Miranda rights and refused to answer any further questions, the Obama administration has claimed that it had, during that brief interrogation, gotten all the information that was possible to be gained from Abdulmutallab. On Fox News Sunday January 24, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that "FBI interrogators believe they got valuable intelligence and were able to get all that they could out of him." When host Chris Wallace asked, "All they could?" Gibbs answered, "Yeah."
On January 31, top White House adviser David Axelrod told Meet the Press that Abdulmutallab "has given very valuable information to the government about activities in Yemen and some of his experiences there." To emphasize the point, Axelrod said, "We have not lost anything as a result of how his case has been handled."
So just a few days ago the Obama administration claimed that Abdulmutallab had given up everything he knows. Now, they claim he is giving them fresh, useful intelligence.
The administration's new position seems to be a direct response to bipartisan criticism of the handling of Abdulmutallab. Many lawmakers on Capitol Hill were appalled to learn that he had been questioned for just 50 minutes before being advised of his right to remain silent. The criticism started among Republicans but spread to some Democrats and threatened to spread further unless the administration addressed the issue in some way. So now comes the news that Abdulmutallab is talking again.
The news is being reported in a frankly political context. "The revelation could deflate recent Republican attacks against the Obama administration’s decision to read Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights," reports the Politico. The "senior administration official" who spoke to ABC News denounced "people with no experience and apparently less knowledge about the case and the issues involved" who "have made it a cause celebre." Other news organizations are reporting administration pushback stories as well, including reports that Abdulmutallab's treatment closely resembled that given by the Bush administration to shoe bomber Richard Reid. (Politico reports that that news "further undermined" GOP criticisms.)
And obviously administration officials that have been telling critics to shut up about this know even less about this issue, or the issue of gaining as much intelligence from captured terrorists as possible. Allow me to explain ...
The first 24 hours in our custody is the most important time for any captured terrorist. In that amount of time we learn whether or not the terrorist is open to being cooperative. Some times they are, as in the case of Abd al Hadi. When al Hadi was captured and handed over to CIA interrogators, he sang like a stool pigeon. Why? Because he had heard about what was done to detainees, and he was literally afraid of what he might endure. Twenty-four hours also gives the interrogators plenty of time to corroborate what the terrorist might admit to, and determine if he's lying or not with carefully chosen questions. At the end of the day, interrogators would know, one way or another, if they needed to continue with the less coercive methods or resort to enhanced interrogation techniques. Fifty minutes of questioning isn't even going to scratch the surface of whether a terrorist is trustworthy to give us relevant and important intelligence.
This is the number one reason why I agree with Byron York's skepticism. The administration's admission of this is suspicious, and does seem to smack of political opportunism to deflect any further criticism.
As I said earlier, he's not the only one who is skeptical of this revelation from the administration. Dana Perrino and Bill Burck have also sounded off on this admission and they are cynical to say the least:
We had to do a double take last night when we saw the news stories about the Christmas Day terrorist, Abdulmutallab. Let us make sure we’ve got this straight: The administration last week admitted that the none of the intelligence services was consulted when Abdulmutallab was Mirandized after 50 minutes of questioning and then charged as a criminal defendant. Some in the administration even claimed that those 50 minutes were enough time to get everything he knew out of him. (Yeah, right. Former CIA director Michael Hayden demolished this ridiculous idea in his Sunday op-ed in the Washington Post.)
Now the administration has begun systematically leaking to the press that he started talking again last week after FBI agents prevailed upon his family in Nigeria to convince him to cooperate.
Last week?! So, first of all: How many of his fellow terrorists have rolled up operations since Christmas Day and headed for the hills? They’ve skedaddled for sure. It’s a classic al-Qaeda tactic: hold out for as long as you can so your fellow terrorists can go underground.
But even worse is that someone in the administration is leaking this at all. How does it further our national-security interests to tell Abdulmutallab’s fellow terrorists overseas that he is informing on them? What would you do if you were one of those fellow terrorists? If you hadn’t already gone to ground, you sure would do so now.
If the administration believed it was important to reassure Congress that Abdulmutallab was cooperating, they should have done so in private in closed session with the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. This kind of sensitive information is shared all the time in that way. It is bad practice to tell the world that a terrorist has agreed to spill the beans on his fellow terrorists who are still walking around free overseas. That is, of course, unless the principal motivation is to try to save political hides at home, even at the expense of actually finding the terrorists Abdulmutallab worked with.
It will be interesting to find out what kind of deal Abdulmutallab has received in exchange for his “cooperation.” Less prison time? A room with a view? Who knows?
The CIA interrogation program disbanded by President Obama produced an enormous amount of intelligence from people like KSM, according to former CIA Director Hayden. KSM most assuredly did not get a deal for his cooperation.
Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.
The entire fiasco surrounding Abdulmutallab shows signs of amatuerish and inept decision-making on the part of the administration. What makes this even more suspect now is the admission from Attorney General Eric Holder that the decision to mirandize and charge Abdulmutallab was his decision alone. Pretty convenient of him to fall on his sword for the president after the president and his aides have been doing their best for the last 24 hours to spin Abdulmutallab's sudden cooperation.
My guess is that Abdulmutallab hasn't given us anything of significance. Given the fact that they're using the FBI to interrogate him instead of the CIA -- the guys actually trained to deal with tarrorist interrogations -- whatever he is giving us is outdated, at best. At worst, it's crap that won't help us in the long run. Unlike the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, which gave us actionable intelligence to roll up several plots, cells, and operations, what Abdulmutallab is giving us likely equates to a wild goose chase.
Justice seems intent to save face on this, and I'm afraid they're probably out of their league. These fools would guarantee him any deal to get any information to save face despite the fact that intelligence isn't worth squat. I think it's time the white House comes clean, admits they made a mistake, and fire Eric Holder before that schmuck screws anything else up in the prosecution of this war.