After being embarrassed by a report on the breakdown of counterterrorism efforts before Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded a Northwest flight in Amsterdam for Detroit and a series of Congressional appearances that demonstrated a lack of communication in the decision to treat the terrorist as a criminal rather than an enemy at war, the White House has begun to push back. Citing unnamed “officials,” the AP reports that the FBI and the CIA have begun to get information from Abdulmutallab despite having clammed up after getting Mirandized. The key, they claim, was to get his family involved in breaking his resistance:
The Nigerian man accused of trying to use a bomb hidden in his underwear to bring down a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day has been cooperating with investigators since last week, discussing his contacts in Yemen and providing intelligence in multiple terrorism investigations, officials said Tuesday.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s cooperation could prove to be a national security victory and a political vindication for President Barack Obama, who has been under fire from lawmakers who contend the administration botched the case by giving Abdulmutallab the right to remain silent, rather than interrogating him as a military prisoner.
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 family persuaded Abdulmutallab to work with the FBI, believing he would be treated fairly in U.S. courts, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
The AP provides the motive for the leak later in its own reporting:
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.”
Color Byron York skeptical:
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.
There are two possibilities in this scenario. The first is that the administration got Abdulmutallab’s family to the US immediately after the terrorist clammed up, and that he had been giving valuable intel all along. That would mean that the White House sent Gibbs on a misinformation mission — which under the circumstances would be acceptable as a way to keep Abdulmutallab’s contacts relaxed and in position for American attempts to target them.
But if that was the case, why leak its effectiveness now? The US hasn’t conducted any known raids in Yemen for the last few weeks. This leak will certainly tip off any of Abdulmutallab’s cohorts to start looking for new ground and to disconnect any network nodes of which the EunuchBomber had knowledge.
The second scenario would be that the White House finally acted after getting ripped by both Democrats and Republicans for their mishandling of the terrorist and the unilateral decision to keep him in the criminal system. That would explain the testimony of Mueller, Blair, Napolitano, and Leiter in front of Congress — where deliberately giving false testimony is a crime, not a misdirection strategy. Under this scenario, the administration finally got Abdulmutallab to talk by getting his family involved, but weeks too late to have anything helpful in stopping any other potential terrorist attacks.
Given this administration’s track record and the previous testimony to Congress, the second scenario seems significantly more likely.