Former 9/11 Chairs Criticize Handling of Detroit Christmas Day Bomber Case

Terrorism and intelligence communities should have been consulted, they say.

January 26, 2010, 3:03 PM

Jan. 26, 2010 — -- The two former chairmen of the 9/11 Commission expressed concerns today about how security agencies responded to the arrest of alleged Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and the decision to quickly charge him instead of attempting to gain valuable intelligence information.

Before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, former 9/11 Commission vice-chair Lee Hamilton testified there needs to be more urgency when confronting Al Qaeda, saying the terrorist group "is on the march, not on the run…the sense of urgency for terrorism has been too low."

"Here is a man who may have trained with other people who are trying to get into this country one way or another, who may have worked with some of the top al Qaeda leadership in Yemen or al Qaeda generally and we don't know the details of that," Thomas Kean, former chairman of the 9/11 Commission, told the committee. "He may know about other plots that are pending and we haven't found out about them."

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said she was shocked to hear about the decision to charge Abdulmutallab and not continuing interrogating him.

"This has such implications for our nation's ability to better understand what may be further plots emanating from Yemen," Collins said.

Asked about the former 9/11 Chairs' comments, the Justice Department referred to a statement issued last week by Matthew Miller, the Director of Public Affairs for the Justice Department.

Miller said, "Since September 11, 2001, every terrorism suspect apprehended in the United States by either the Bush administration or the Obama administration has been initially arrested, held or charged under federal criminal law. Al Qaeda terrorists such as Richard Reid, Zacarias Moussaoui and others have all been prosecuted in federal court, and the arrest and charging of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was handled no differently. Those who now argue that a different action should have been taken in this case were notably silent when dozens of terrorists were successfully prosecuted in federal court by the previous administration."

Last week at a hearing before the Committee Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, Chief of the National Counterterrorism Center Michael Leiter and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano testified that they were not consulted about the decision to charge Abdulmutallab.

"The decisions of this kind should never have been made without consulting without the full input of the greater intelligence community, particularly the DNI, but also the CIA the FBI and other members of the intelligence community," said Kean.

Kean also had criticism for Attorney General Eric Holder for not fully considering the security implications of the terrorism trials for the 9/11 conspirators in New York City: "I gather the Attorney General did not consult any member of the intelligence community before making that decision which has security implications...We need to get our act together."

Holder, for the record, did consult with NYPD, BOP and DHS officials about holding the trials in New York.

Hamilton also voiced his support for legislation proposed by the chair and ranking member of the committee by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) to mandate that intelligence officials be consulted when foreign terrorists are arrested by the United States.

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