White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Thursday afternoon said that the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., owes people in the White House and in law enforcement an apology for alleging in a recent letter that the administration — for political reasons — leaked information it shouldn't have shared about Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab.
Bond, Gibbs said, "owes an apology to the professionals in the law enforcement community and those that work in this building…who work each and every day to keep the American people safe and would never ever, ever knowingly release or unknowingly release classified information that could endanger an operation or an interrogation."
Earlier today, Bond wrote to President Obama that on Monday afternoon, the leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee as told by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that Abdulmutallab has been willing "to provide critical information" in recent days.
"FBI officials stressed the importance of not disclosing the fact of his cooperation in order to protect on-going and follow-on operations to neutralize additional threats to the American public," Bond wrote. "FBI Director Bob Mueller personally stressed to me that keeping the fact of his cooperation quiet was vital to preventing future attacks against the United States."
So, Bond said, he was chagrined to learn that Tuesday evening the White House arranged a briefing for reporters "to announce Abdulmutallab’s cooperation and to laud the events that led to his decision to cooperate with law enforcement personnel. This information immediately hit the air waves globally and, no doubt, reached the ears of our enemies abroad."
Bond said the "release of this sensitive information has no doubt been helpful" to Abdulmutallab's "terrorist cohorts around the world."
Gibbs said "no briefing is done here or anywhere in this administration where classified information is used in a place where it shouldn't be."
The White House spokesman said that news that Abdulmutallab was cooperating again — shared at a congressional hearing on Tuesday by director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair (ret.) and FBI director Mueller was "not something that was timed purposefully."
But after the information was shared with the public, Gibbs said, "we felt it important to contextualize… what this testimony meant." He asserted that "any briefing that's done here in order to ensure that the information that's in the public is correct is done in conjunction with many agencies and done so, so that information that is classified and shouldn't be released isn't released, and in this case, obviously, it was not.
Gibbs also questioned why Bond would during a hearing on Tuesday say that Abdulmutallab "refused to cooperate after he was Mirandized" if he had been briefed on Monday that Abdulmutallab was cooperating again.
"Why, if he was briefed on Monday, why on Tuesday, why does he say that the Abdulmutallab — the result of his refusal to cooperate after he was Mirandized? Why does Senator Bond continue to knowingly not have information curb what he's saying? Or is this a bunch of politics?"
(A Bond spokeswoman said that when the senator, "during the hearing, talked about the Christmas Day bomber not talking, he was referring to the five weeks he was silent after being Mirandized. As Bond has repeatedly pointed out, that's five weeks where terrorists got a free pass and a head start to cover their tracks.")*
In his letter, Bond also criticized the decision to read the suspect his Miranda rights, a sentiment echoed by other Republicans as well.
"Because we treated him in this fashion, we followed Miranda and advised him of his right to remain silent, losing five crucial weeks for obtaining imminent threat information," Bond wrote.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter suggested Senate Republicans were playing politics with this issue, noting that similar practices in dealing with accused terrorists “were not criticized when employed by previous Administrations." Holder noted that in 2001 failed shoe-bomber Richard Reid was “advised of his right to remain silent and to consult with an attorney within five minutes of being removed from the aircraft (and was read or reminded of these rights a total of four times within 48 hours).”
* This was added after posting.