Intelligence community warns Senate committee of increased terror threats

Thursday's hearing before the Select Committee on Intelligence brings to light very different views held by its members on Miranda warning policies and should such warnings be offered to a terrorist suspect. The committee also heard how terrorist are falling off the grid.
Written by Doug Hanchard, Contributor

Thursday's hearing before the Select Committee on Intelligence brings to light very different views held by its members on Miranda warning policies and should such warnings be offered to terrorist suspects. The committee also heard how terrorists are falling off the grid.

The first question asked by Chairman Sen. (D) Dianne Feinstein set the tone:

"Is a terrorist attack against the United States likely in the next 3 to 6 months?"

All 5 witnesses -- Adm. Blair (DNI), Dir. Panetta (CIA), Lt. Gen Burges (MI), Dir. Mueller (FBI) and acting Assist Secretary of INR Dinger -- testified yes.

Vice Chair Sen. (R) Kit Bond's opening statement suggested Miranda warnings should not have been given to terrorist suspects (enemy combatants), enabling investigators to aggressively interrogate suspects. On the day of the attempted Christmas Day bombing on Northwest Flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, was interrogated by an FBI team about other potential threats.

Bond then asked what protocol was followed and who made the decision to give the Christmas Day bomber his Miranda rights. Director Mueller responded that the FBI consulted with the Justice Department after briefing them on the day's events, upon which Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys recommended that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should be given his Miranda warning.

Sen. Bond criticized that decision, believing that because the FBI Director allowed his team to lead the investigation instead of the Director of National Intelligence, who could have recommended that a military commission team interrogate Abdulmutallab, then not only would a Miranda warning have been unnecessary, but additional and very valuable intelligence information could have been gained.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) then blasted Director Mueller for allowing its investigators to give Abdulmutallab his Miranda warning, asking why was there such a (time line) rush. Director Mueller responding that time (24 hour window) was important and was influenced by concern that any information gathered without a Miranda warning would jeopardize a successful conviction before a federal court. This brought follow up questions by Sen. Bond wondering why DOJ procedures and policies were followed instead of a Enemy Combatant / Military Commission procedures, suggesting that if they had been used, a Miranda warning would not have been required.

Sen. Bond suggested that there is flexibility in determining how a terrorist suspect is prosecuted and asked why the Intelligence Directors were not coordinating such options.

Director of National Intelligence Adm. Blair suggested that not all suspects should or would be put through a military commission or military justice protocol and policy. Both Blair and Mueller believe each terrorist event requires a case by case analysis before a decision on which avenue should be taken and followed.

On Dec. 25, information and other data were collected while Abdulmutallab was in surgery from his burn injuries. He was interviewed once prior to his surgery. Information from watch lists and other reports finally connected all the dots and, after his surgery, the investigators had further questions; but by that time Abdulmutallab was given his Miranda warning, given access to a lawyer and the FBI temporarily ceased questioning him.

In the hearing, Director Mueller was asked if they have questioned Abdulmutallab since Dec. 25  and testified that investigators have and collected high value intelligence information with his lawyer in attendance. It is still not clear from the hearing if high value intelligence was collected during the first interrogation or afterwards.

Perhaps the most chilling testimony was CIA Director Panetta's. In his opening remarks, Panetta stated that what keeps him up at night is the "lone wolf" individual who has loose ties with a terrorist organization, is young, easy to impress, has a clean record, and is almost impossible to track or collect information about.  The Al-Qaeda network is changing tactics and moving to other countries in smaller numbers.

Because lone wolf individuals and small groups don't leave any trail that can found or followed, technology and information assets inside the FBI, CIA and NSA and others become useless. Even when such terrorists do use technology like anonymous email, prepaid phones, and (as was stated by Sen. Jay Rockefeller) pay cash for everything, it could be a daunting if not an impossible task to determine what their next target is. Funding human intelligence assets will be a higher priority than developing or buying more technology. Sen. Rockefeller suggested ideas to help find lone wolf terrorists, with procedures that are already being used by airlines -- such as collecting telephone numbers and other pieces of identity. Rockefeller was clearly frustrated hearing Panetta's concern, realizing that it is very easy to fly under the radar and fall off the grid.

Resources used for this post:

C-SPAN Coverageof House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (2 Hr's, 26 min. long)

Admiral Blair's written submission for Senate Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

Witnesses before the Senate Select Committee for Intelligence were:

Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis C Blair

Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Robert Mueller

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Leon Panetta

Director of Military Intelligence Lt. General Ronald Burgess

Acting Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research (State Dept) John Dinger

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