The fact that the Times Square bomber is talking after being read his Miranda rights is being cited by the White House to demonstrate that terrorist suspects can be treated successfully as ordinary criminal defendants.
It is true that, in many cases, FBI agents establish enough rapport with a suspect that he keeps talking even after being warned he does not have to. But what happens when a suspect refuses to talk after being read his rights?
The cases of Richard Jewell and Felix Bloch illustrate what can happen.
When a pipe bomb exploded at Centennial Olympic Park on July 27, 1996, the FBI became interested in Jewell, a security guard who had alerted police to a suspicious green backpack at 12:57 a.m. Jewell appeared on TV to describe how he tried to help evacuate the area after the bombing, which killed two and injured 111.
Three days later, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, citing unnamed sources, published a story saying Jewell was a suspect in the FBI’s investigation. The story pointed out that sometimes those who claim to be heroes at crime scenes are the perpetrators.
Because of the story, the FBI decided to speed up its timetable for interviewing Jewell. That afternoon, agents Don Johnson and Diader Rosario drove to Jewell’s apartment and asked him if he would come into the field office. If Jewell could clear up questions to the agents’ satisfaction, they planned to drop their interest in him.
Jewell agreed and followed the agents to the field office in his car. An hour and 15 minutes into the interview, the agents still were reviewing Jewell’s background with him when then FBI Director Louis Freeh called David W. “Woody” Johnson Jr., the FBI’s special agent in charge in Atlanta. Johnson was in his office down the hall from the room where Jewell was being questioned. With him were other special agents and Kent B. Alexander, the U.S. attorney.
Freeh said the agents should read Jewell his rights.
Any fresh agent out of the FBI Academy at Quantico, Va., knows that, under a long line of court rulings, a suspect must be read his Miranda rights if he is in custody or is about to be arrested. In Jewell’s case, neither was true.
Johnson pointed this out to Freeh, and U.S. Attorney Alexander told Freeh on the speakerphone he agreed with Johnson. Back at headquarters, Robert M. “Bear” Bryant, who headed the FBI’s criminal investigations, gave Freeh the same advice. But the director was adamant.
Woody Johnson walked down the hallway and pulled the two agents out to pass along the instruction. The agents went back to the conference room and read Jewell his rights. Jewell said he would like to call an attorney, and that ended the interview.
“If we could have continued with Jewell, we could have confirmed what he told us and cleared him more quickly,” Woody Johnson told me for my book “The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI.”
Three months later, the FBI cleared Jewell, as it could have done immediately if Freeh had not intervened. Eventually, Eric Robert Rudolph was charged with the bombing.
Things took a different turn in the case of Felix Bloch, who was deputy chief of mission in Vienna until 1987. According to an FBI affidavit filed in the espionage case of former FBI agent Robert Hanssen, Hanssen disclosed to the KGB the FBI’s secret investigation of Felix Bloch for espionage.
Before FBI agents interviewed Bloch, John L. Martin, who successfully prosecuted 75 spies as head of the Justice Department’s internal security section, went over with the agents how to establish the elements of the crime of espionage and when a Miranda warning should or should not be given.
Bloch began talking to the agents. He seemed on the verge of making an admission about money he had received from the Soviets. At that point, the agents stopped the interview and read Bloch his Miranda rights.
“If I have the right to remain silent, I will remain silent,” Bloch said.
Martin was furious. It was, he now says, the same mistake Freeh made when he ordered agents to read Jewell his rights in the middle of an interview.
“I specifically advised the agents that they were under no obligation to give Bloch his rights,” Martin says. “Only if the agents had enough evidence to arrest him going into the interview and intended to arrest him, or if Bloch already was in custody, did they need to warn him of his rights. Giving him his rights in the middle of an interview was inconceivable. To this day, I don’t know what they were thinking. Clearly, they had their own ideas.”
“The government, the leaks, assert that I’m guilty,” Bloch told author David Wise. “Apparently, they can’t prove it . . . There’s a presumption of innocence in this country. Someone should not be put in the position of saying, ‘I’m innocent.’”
In November 1990, Secretary of State James A. Baker III announced that, in the interests of national security, Bloch had been dismissed. Bloch never was charged.
In the case of suspected terrorists, Congress has passed legislation specifically to allow them to be tried in military tribunals without the need for a Miranda warning.
If you consider terrorism to be a “man-caused disaster” — as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has described it — you are willing to take a chance that a suspect may clam up after being read his Miranda rights.
If you refuse to identify radical Islam as the threat we face — as was the case with Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. at a recent hearing — you are willing to roll the dice.
But if you understand that we are in a war for our survival, when it comes to thwarting plots, you do not gamble with the safety of millions of Americans. On May 1, it was a lone terrorist whose bomb failed to explode in Times Square. Tomorrow, it could be 20 terrorists who successfully detonate radiological bombs simultaneously in our major cities.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
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