Senate hearings held on mishandling of Christmas Day terror attack

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In a second round of hearings on the attempted Christmas day airline bombing, Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) opened with a sympathetic defense of National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair’s candidness in last week’s hearing.

Blair came under fire for admitting mistakes in the handling of the Detroit bomber, saying Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should have been questioned by the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG).

“I thought Admiral Blair was forthright and it brought him some criticism … it was definitely the right thing to do because it was the way he felt and he spoke in what he believed to be the national interest,” said Lieberman in opening remarks.

Lieberman voiced his displeasure at the way federal law enforcement handled the attempted attack in Detroit: “To me this is outrageous, a kind of alice in wonderland in turning the world of common sense on its head… I urge the authorities to turn Abdulmutallab over to the Department of Defense … where he can be held as a prisoner of war.”

Lieberman voices displeasure with law enforcement

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Lieberman and ranking Republican Susan Collins of Maine both sent a letter on Monday to Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to consider the suspect an enemy combatant.

Within two days of assuming office last year, President Obama issued an executive order establishing a special task force to assemble the country’s best intelligence resources in a specialized unit dedicated to interrogations. The HIG was designed to pull the best people from the FBI, CIA, DoD and other agencies and apply their talents where they were most needed. The task force is chaired by the attorney general, but the unit is reportedly not yet fully operational.

The Justice Department issued a strongly worded statement after receiving criticism for their handling of the underpants bomber.

“Since Sept. 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,” Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the DoJ, said.

Later in the same hearing, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, and Indiana Democrat and  Former Gov. Thomas H. Keane, a New Jersey Republican, told the panel they were shocked that the attack was mishandled. Both men served on the 9/11 commission and were instrumental in implementing the reforms that should have prevented the Detroit incident. Both had strong words of advice and criticism for the president.

“The greatest challenge facing the DNI relates to his authority and his role — from my point of view the burden is clearly on the president to be very specific about who is in charge of the intelligence community, where final authority lies on budget, personnel, and other matters,” said Hamilton,  Vice Chairman of the 9/11 commission.

Hamilton says burden on intelligence rests with president

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Later, Hamilton got more directly to the point in talking about the relationship between the various intelligence agencies and the president’s needed leadership on the matter.

“I don’t mean to ask an awkward question but I will,” began Lieberman. “Is it too early to evaluate President Obama’s relationship with the DNI and whether that measure of leadership that you’d like to see from the president has been seen thus far in the administration?”

Hamilton responded, “My impression is that the intelligence community is relatively new to this president … my impression is that his instincts are probably good but that he is feeling his way. His preference may be, as he’s said, “I’ve appointed good people here,” — I do think he’s made some good appointments — but I do not think he has a firm grasp yet of the intelligence community. Therefore I’m pretty strong in my thought that he has to step in pretty hard here, or some of these tensions which have surfaced, will exacerbate.”

Hamilton says president needs better grasp of intelligence community

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