Christmas Day bombing suspect cooperates, producing new leads

The attempted Christmas Day bombing suspect has been cooperating with FBI interrogators over the last week and is producing new leads, according to a law enforcement official.

“He has been speaking and providing additional information and the FBI is working in conjunction with the intelligence community to run down these leads,” the official told The Hill.

A growing number of Republicans and Democrats have been questioning the decision to read Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the suspected attempted bomber, his Miranda rights after 50 minutes of interrogation Christmas Day and to try him in civilian court rather than a military commission.

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After he was read his rights, Abdulmutallab stopped answering questions the evening of the near takedown of Northwest Flight 253.

Abdulmutallab has begun talking again in the last week, although the law enforcement official declined to say what prompted the renewed questioning. It is also unclear what role if any, the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group is playing in the Abdulmutallab's interrogation.

The Obama administration in August announced the creation of HIG, a new interagency squad for interrogating the highest-value terrorism detainees.

Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence committee, said the renewed questioning of Abdulmutallab is too little too late.

“There’s no changing the fact that Mirandizing Abdulmutallab gave terrorists a six week head start to cover their tracks," he said. "We will never know what life saving information on co-conspirators and future plots we missed out on."

The group is housed at the FBI and reports to the National Security Council, not the attorney general and director of national intelligence. The group, Obama said at the time, would make a case-by-case decision on whether to Mirandize detainees.

In a hearing earlier this month Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair suggested that Abdulmutallab should have been treated as a high-value terror suspect when the plane landed, which would have triggered questioning by special interrogators rather than civilian law officers.

“The FBI agent in charge at the scene,” in consultation with the Justice Department, made the decision to read Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights, Blair said at the time. Since then, media reports said CIA officials were also consulted about the interrogation.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) on Tuesday called for answers about HIG’s status and the role it is playing in interrogating terrorism suspects.  

Wolf, the ranking Republican on the appropriations subcommittee that funds key counterterrorism programs, sent a letter to National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones after a Monday meeting he had with interagency leaders of the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) that apparently left him with more questions than answers.

In the letter, Wolf urged Jones to clearly delineate the administration’s interrogation policies and HIG’s role in it and ensure that all intelligence agencies understand their operational roles. He also asked Jones to ensure that all Congressional “entities and committees” are fully briefed on what the policy is and how it will be carried out.

In addition, Wolf asked Jones to prepare an addendum to the president’s review of the botched Christmas Day bombing that deals specifically with the facts surrounding the interrogation of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the accused attempted bomber.

“There has been considerable confusion among agencies as to what their role was, what their role should have been, whether the HIG should have been involved, whether the HIG is intended to operate inside the United States, and even whether the HIG exists,” Wolf wrote.

“There also seems to be a surprising number of individuals and entities that were never consulted as to how the interrogation should have been handled. There is clearly an urgent need for action and clarification to ensure that future interrogations are conducted properly and effectively,” he continued.

The White House press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

-- This article was updated at 8:34 p.m.