Experts: Terror attack on U.S. is likely in the near future
February 4, 2010
Terror attack on U.S. is likely, experts say
Key is to foil plot, committee is told
BY TODD SPANGLER
WASHINGTON -- A Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound aircraft on Christmas Day is talking again to FBI interrogators, providing potentially useful intelligence, which already has been followed up on in the U.S. and abroad, a law enforcement source told the Free Press on Tuesday.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has been talking to the FBI for a number of days beginning last week, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing. For security reasons, the source declined to discuss how many times he met with investigators and what information he provided.
The intelligence has been useful and already has been "followed up" on, though the source wouldn't elaborate. The source also said FBI agents visited the suspect's family in Nigeria but could not confirm an Associated Press report that family members persuaded him to talk with investigators.
News that Abdulmutallab was talking again to investigators came on the same day some members of the Senate Intelligence Committee complained that Abdulmutallab should have been held as an enemy combatant -- not charged as a criminal in federal court -- because he clammed up after being read his rights.
Will al-Qaida attempt another attack?
Asked on Tuesday whether they believe al-Qaida will attempt another terrorist attack against the U.S. in the near future, top Obama administration intelligence officials had a simple answer: Yes.
The key, they told the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, is making sure the attempt is foiled -- a challenge all the more important after the failed bombing.
"Everybody in this room knows the importance of intelligence," said FBI Director Robert Mueller. Gathering it, analyzing it and using it to stop threats before they become action will be vital to protecting the U.S. from further attack.
The hearing -- on the annual threat assessment provided to the committee by the intelligence community -- included Mueller, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair and Leon Panetta, director of the CIA. Each agreed, they have no doubt al-Qaida operatives across the globe aspire to attack the U.S.
Much of the questioning from the committee, however, focused on the Obama administration's decision to charge Abdulmutallab as a criminal in federal court, rather than as an enemy combatant.
Doing so, said U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., could have led to more intelligence being gathered through interrogation.
Mueller noted, however, that there have been numerous cases in which terrorism suspects charged as federal criminals have given up useful information.
And the decision to charge Abdulmutallab in federal court -- the same decision made in every other case where a terrorism suspect has been captured inside the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- still is apparently producing intelligence.
A law enforcement source told the Free Press on Tuesday that Abdulmutallab has met on more than one occasion since last week with the FBI and given them "useful" intelligence.
The source noted -- as Mueller did Tuesday -- that charging a suspect in federal court can come with its own incentives to work with investigators. The source did not elaborate.
In that context, comments made by Mueller and Blair during the hearing seemed to confirm that Abdulmutallab was talking with investigators, though they did not appear to be offered as revelations to the committee or as anything more than a general acknowledgment that authorities were still working to glean as much information as they could get.
In one exchange, Mueller said the investigators were still getting information even though Abdulmutallab had been read his rights, and in another, Blair said officials had gotten good intelligence already and were "getting more."