Former CIA Director Michael Hayden is the latest and among the most credible critics of the administration’s handling of the Christmas Day bombing. He writes:
We got it wrong in Detroit on Christmas Day. We allowed an enemy combatant the protections of our Constitution before we had adequately interrogated him. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is not “an isolated extremist.” He is the tip of the spear of a complex al-Qaeda plot to kill Americans in our homeland.
In the 50 minutes the FBI had to question him, agents reportedly got actionable intelligence. Good. But were there any experts on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the room (other than Abdulmutallab)? Was there anyone intimately familiar with any National Security Agency raw traffic to, from or about the captured terrorist? Did they have a list or photos of suspected recruits?
This is, as Hayden points out, one in a long list of misjudgments that began when we limited our interrogations to the Army Field Manual, stripped the CIA of its interrogation responsibilities (and then failed to implement the high-value detainee interrogation team), released the interrogation memos, began the re-investigation of CIA operatives, decided to try KSM, and, of course, determined to close Guantanamo without a reasonable alternative. Our anti-terror policies now have an entirely legalistic cast, and our intelligence-gathering has been subsumed to a new priority: the extension of constitutional protections to terrorists. As Hadyen dryly concludes:
In August, the government unveiled the [ High Value Interrogation Group] for questioning al-Qaeda and announced that the FBI would begin questioning CIA officers about the alleged abuses in the 2004 inspector general’s report. They are apparently still getting organized for the al-Qaeda interrogations. But the interrogations of CIA personnel are well underway.
Aside from the political controversy this has created and the lack of confidence it has inspired among the American people, the question remains whether we are now safer, and our intelligence agencies, more focused. Almost certainly, we are neither. This has been a grand experiment — allowing leftist lawyers to run our national-security policy. Perhaps after a year, we can now see how foolhardy the endeavor was. If the president cannot pivot (just as on domestic policy), it is time for Congress to step forward, use the power of the purse, and exercise its authority over the federal courts’ jurisdiction. Members of Congress, too, have an obligation to attend to the national security of the country. They would be well advised to review, assess, and then depart from the Obami’s ill-fated escapade.