Obama Intel Czar Blames FBI for Lost Opportunity to Question Underwear Bomber; WaPo Gives Story Bland Headline

President Obama's handpicked intelligence czar blames officials at the FBI and the Department of Justice for failing to permit the gathering critical intelligence from Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called Underwear Bomber who attempted to down a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day 2009.

What's more, neither Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair nor FBI director Mueller or Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano were "consulted about the charging decision" for Abdulmutallab, a decision which may have resulted in the loss of a golden opportunity to collect intelligence from the would-be bomber before he was able to lawyer up.

Oh, and did I mention that the special task force that President Obama commissioned precisely for these situations isn't fully operational yet?

Yet in reporting this story on page A3 of today's Washington Post, the paper gave readers a bland headline and subheaders to sell readers on the story:

Intelligence chief faults Detroit case: He, FBI Head Are at Odds.

Some say interrogation was conducted hastily

Here's how Post staffers Spencer S. Hsu and Jennifer Agiesta opened their January 21 story (emphasis mine):

The man accused of trying to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day should have been interrogated by special terrorism investigators instead of FBI agents, the nation's intelligence chief said Wednesday, adding that senior national security officials were not consulted before FBI and Justice Department authorities questioned him and pursued criminal charges.

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair faulted the decision not to use the "High Value Interrogation Group" (HIG) to question alleged al-Qaeda operative Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

"That unit was created exactly for this purpose -- to make a decision on whether a certain person who's detained should be treated as a case for federal prosecution or for some of the other means," Blair told the Senate homeland security committee.

The intelligence chief said the interrogation group was created by the White House last year to handle overseas cases but will be expanded now to domestic ones. "We did not invoke the HIG in this case; we should have," he added.

Blair amended his remarks later in written statements, acknowledging that the interrogation group is not "fully operational." However, he maintained, "There should be a decision process right at the outset as to the balance between intelligence-gathering and evidence for prosecution."

In other words, the FBI treated Abdulmutallab as a garden-variety criminal, rather than go through a procedure to determine if he should be tried as a civilian or should be handled in another manner that could yield actionable counterterrorism intelligence.

Even worse, the HIG task force specifically designed for such occasions as the Underwear Bomber threat was not fully operational, a full 11 months into the Obama presidency!

At any rate, as Hsu and Agiesta noted later in their article (emphasis mine):

Blair, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael E. Leiter and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers that they were not consulted about the charging decision.

However, Mueller said other FBI, Justice and administration officials were involved, and he defended the handling of the case before the Senate Judiciary Committee. FBI agents made their decisions amid "fast-moving events," Mueller said, and "there was no time" to move the other interrogators into place.

So top-ranking Obama administration officials whose portfolios pertain to homeland security and counterterrorism were NOT consulted on how to proceed with processing the Underwear Bomber?!

These revelations not only call for a crisper headline, they practically scream for front page coverage!

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters