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Mistakes made in handling accused bomber, Blair says

WASHINGTON — Director of national intelligence Dennis Blair told senators Wednesday that it was a mistake for authorities to give the suspect in the attempted Christmas Day attack on a U.S.-bound airliner a reading of his Miranda right to an attorney without consulting Blair's office, the Homeland Security secretary and other officials.

Blair noted the administration has created High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG, for interrogating terrorism suspects and that it was not used — but should have been — after the arrest of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian accused of attempting to take down the Northwest Airlines flight traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit.

A White House report this month on the Christmas Day episode outlined a series of missteps, including the name misspellings, ignored warnings and oversights. But for a failed detonator and the swift action of passengers, the attack might have killed all 289 people aboard.

The interrogation group cited by Blair was created by the Obama administration last year to handle high-value terror suspects, but it was envisioned for use with suspects caught overseas, not in the United States. The group, to be led by FBI interrogators, is being assembled and has not been deployed yet.

Blair said the decision to file criminal charges against the suspect in federal court was made "on the scene."

Under questioning by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Blair and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said they were not consulted before the decision was made to not use the high-value detainee interrogation group. Michael Leiter, chief of the National Counterterrorism Center, also said he was not consulted.

In another hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, FBI director Robert Mueller said the threat of a terrorist attack against the United States is becoming more worrisome "with each passing day." Mueller said law enforcement agencies have disrupted several plots in the past year.

Information from the Associated Press, McClatchy Newspapers and the San Antonio Express-News was used in this report.

Fort Hood inquiry faults supervisors

Former Army Secretary Togo West and retired Adm. Vernon Clark, who led an internal Pentagon inquiry into the Fort Hood shootings, said Wednesday that supervisors missed signals of erratic behavior and instead promoted Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist been charged with murdering 13 people. They told the House Armed Services Committee that several supervisors of Hasan should be held accountable for failing to take action that could have prevented the mass killing. West and Clark were cautious in their comments about the alleged gunman, saying they were instructed by Defense Department lawyers not to release information that could compromise an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by the Army.

TSA nominee withdraws: Erroll Southers, the Los Angeles airport official whose nomination to lead the Transportation Security Administration was blocked by Republican opposition in Washington, has withdrawn his name from consideration. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who complained that Southers, a former FBI agent with experience in counterterrorism, hoped to make good on a pledge by President Barack Obama to allow TSA workers to join unions, had placed a hold on Southers' confirmation by the Senate.

Times wires

Mistakes made in handling accused bomber, Blair says 01/20/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 11:21pm]
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