Intel Director Suggests Mistake to Mirandize Flight 253 Bomb Suspect too Quickly

By Joel Zand on January 20, 2010 | Last updated on August 31, 2021

In three hours of testimony today before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence lamented the fact that authorities gave Miranda warnings to accused Northwest Flight 253 terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (inset, right), without first consulting with his office and Homeland Security officials.

According to Blair, an elite high-value interrogation group (known as the 'HIG') comprised of CIA, FBI, and other federal agency employees, should have been been used to try and obtain actionable intelligence before MIrandizing Abdulmutallab. "We did not invoke the HIG in this case," Blair testified. "We should have. Frankly, we were thinking more of overseas people. And, duh...the decision was made on the scene."

Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, lamented that:

"We know that those interrogations can provide critical intelligence. But the protections afforded by our civil justice system ... encourage terrorists to lawyer up. I'm told that with Abdulmutallab, once he was Mirandized and received civilian lawyers, that is exactly what he did. He stopped answering questions."

Blair told the Committee that the decision to Mirandize Abdulmutallab after being apprehended "was made by the FBI agent on the scene, with the Department of Justice."

In a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the September, 2009, FBI Director Robert Mueller stressed that the agency would try to focus on "negotiation interrogation" to try and establish rapport with detainees to gain potentially actionable information on terror groups and their activities. At the time Mueller indicated that Miranda warnings would not be routine, but used only on rare occasions. Mueller disclosed that:

"It ought to be put on the table as to whether or not you wish to Mirandize that individual before you talk to him...but that does not necessarily exclude that the person will be interviewed for intelligence purposes."

Blair told Senator John Ensign, a Republican representing Nevada, that, in the future, "we will deploy the HIG" to interrogate terror suspects, but did not elaborate on what criteria might be used to consider when, or under what conditions, to a suspect should be Mirandized.

Abdulmutallab is represented by Jill Price, Leroy Soles, and Miriam Siefer at the Federal Defender's Office in Detroit.

Federal prosecutors in the case from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit include Jonathan Tukel,

Exactly when Abdulmutallab was Mirandized by the FBI agent on the scene is unclear. A review of the FBI affidavit filed in support of the initial criminal complaint against the Flight 253 bomb suspect does not specify the exact timing of the Miranda warning, but states only that "[u]pon landing...Abdulmutallab was taken into custody by Customs and Border Protection officers."

Photo credit: U.S. Marshal

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