April 14, 2008— -- FBI chief Robert Mueller said he is frustrated by his British counterparts and the laws in the U.K., which have created a "dark hole of terror intelligence," according to an exclusive interview he gave to the "Daily Mail."
Mueller, who visited London last week, said a law banning plea bargains prevents interrogators from obtaining key information from suspects.
"If you talk to our British counterparts, it's clear that people questioned about the training camps and the individuals who run the training camps have not been cooperating," Mueller told the Mail. "All of us would like a clearer view of what's happening in Pakistan so that's a frustration."
Mueller cited how in the U.S. plea bargaining with suspects has yielded valuable actionable intelligence. He used the example of a Pakistani-American who gave the FBI information that led to the arrests of seven men in the U.K. who were hoarding explosives and planning attacks on shopping centers and nightclubs. The suspect who gave the intelligence, Mohammad Babar, later testified at the trial in the U.K. All seven men were convicted. Babar pleaded guilty to terrorism charges and faced 70 years in prison, but he now faces less prison time due to his cooperation.
"He is a product of the plea-bargaining system," Mueller told the Mail. "I'm not certain my British counterparts have had anyone who has given the same amount of information, despite the number of arrests they have made over the past five years because of the system here."
He added that Dhiren Barot, the U.K. citizen that was sentenced to 30 years in 2006 for plotting attacks on U.S. soil and had taken detailed surveillance video in New York City, probably has a "wealth of knowledge" but has so far not cooperated with British intelligence.
Mueller's interview coincided with an interview in "News of the World" with British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith who claimed the U.K. still faces a rising threat from terrorist groups linked to al Qaeda. "There are 2,000 individuals who are being monitored," Smith said in the interview. "There are 200 networks involved and 30 active plots."
In the face of the threat, a proposed new law in the U.K. would allow British authorities to hold terror suspects for more than six weeks without any criminal charges. "We can't wait for an attack to succeed and then rush in new powers," Smith said in the interview. "We have got to stay ahead."
Under the draft bill to be debated by Britain's House of Commons this week, police would be able to hold terror suspects without formally being accused of any crime for up to 42 days, an increase of 14 days from the current law. Although regarded as draconian by many legal experts, police and British intelligence argue that the measure is needed because terrorism investigations are getting so complex and involve examining so much material, such as encrypted computer hard drives. Under British law, the police can no longer interrogate suspects once formal charges have been brought against them.
Stephen Grey is the author of "Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA's Rendition and Torture Program" (St Martin's Press). He is an award-winning investigative reporter who has contributed to the New York Times, BBC, PBS and ABC News, among others.