Senate Democrats are rallying behind Attorney General Eric Holder after his dramatic announcement on Wednesday that he ordered the FBI to read Christmas bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights and prosecute him in the U.S. criminal justice system.
But a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush who just published a book on the inner workers of the war on terror criticizes the Obama administration sharply for its approach and warns that “more terrorist attacks are on the way.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., blasted the ranking Republican on his committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., for “trying to create division and score political points” by questioning Holder’s decision.
And at a hearing of the Senate Select Intelligence committee on Tuesday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., hammered FBI Director Robert Mueller to get him to acknowledge the success of traditional law enforcement techniques in gaining useful intelligence from terrorism suspects held in U.S. jails.
Marc Thiessen, author of “Courting Disaster: How the CIA kept America safe and how Barack Obama is Inviting the Next Attack,” says the Obama administration is making a terrible mistake by ending the Bush era's policy of allowing the CIA to conduct enhanced interrogations outside of the United States.
Thiessen explained at a briefing to conservative bloggers hosted by the Heritage Foundation why the interrogations of top terrorists were so important to preventing future terrorist attacks.
Intelligence is like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, former CIA Director Mike Hayden told Thiessen in an interview for his book. “You’ve got a thousand pieces laid out on the table, but you’re not allowed to see the picture on the cover of the box.”
This is what intelligence analysts, such as President Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser, former CIA analyst John Brennan, mean when they talk about not being able to connect the dots.
“You can’t connect the dots, connect the pieces, until you know what the picture on the cover of the box is,” Thiessen said. “And the only way you can understand the picture, is by interrogating the terrorists who drew it.”
Thiessen interviewed the CIA interrogators who worked with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 plot. They never used waterboarding to acquire intelligence, but to break down a detainees resistance, they told him. Then another team of interrogators took over and built up a relationship of trust.
“So when you interrogate a KSM, he’s not giving you new intelligence. He’s telling you how the pieces you already have fit together. If you do not have that capability, you have no way of connecting the dots, which is what everybody says we failed to do in the Christmas Day failed attack,” Thiessen said.
President Obama is touting the dramatic increase in Predator strikes against suspected terrorists since he has taken office. But Thiessen warned that killing terrorists brings with it a mixed blessing.
“After 9/11, the CIA did have a lethal component. But we didn’t target KSM with a Predator, because a dead terrorist can’t tell you about his plans. We worked with intelligence agencies in Pakistan and Jordan and other places to catch these people alive and bring them in for interrogation so they could tell us what the picture on the cover of the box looked like,” he said.
When Mohammed was taken into custody in Pakistan in 2002, he refused to cooperate with his captors. But after waterboarding, which lasted for 15 days in his case, “he spilled his guts and didn’t stop talking for three years.”
“He was running a college lecture course on al-Qaida,” Thiessen said.
Mohammed literally used a blackboard and chalk and drew diagrams of al-Qaida communications networks, the terrorist group’s organizational structure, and detailed how they chose their operatives. “Half our information on al-Qaida came from the interrogation of KSM and other detainees,” Thiessen said.
By putting terrorists such as Abdulmutallab in our criminal justice system, where they cannot be subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques, the U.S. is at risk of missing the “big picture” that will help analysts to connect the dots.
“The reason we almost got hit on Christmas day is because we’re not getting the picture on the cover of the box any more,” Thiessen warned.
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