Director of National Intelligence says White House wasn't tough enough on underwear bomber 

Eli Lake reports:

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair on Wednesday criticized the decision by FBI agents last month to question the Christmas Day airline bombing suspect as a criminal and not interrogate him as a terrorist.

Mr. Blair, in testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, revealed a previously undisclosed disagreement among the Obama administration's top officials over the handling of the Nigerian who is accused of attempting to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253.

The intelligence chief said Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should have been questioned by the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG, a special panel established by President Obama.

"We did not invoke the HIG in this case. We should have. Frankly, we were thinking more of overseas people. And, you know … that's what we will do now. And so we need to make those decisions more carefully," Mr. Blair told Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee.

Later in the day, presumably after the White House got ahold of him, Blair changed his tune:

Mr. Blair later issued a statement saying his remarks had been misconstrued. "The FBI interrogated Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab when they took him into custody," he said. "They received important intelligence at that time, drawing on the FBI's expertise in interrogation that will be available in the HIG once it is fully operational."

This is an interesting development on a number of levels. After Abdulmutallab's attempted bombing of an airliner there were questions about Office of the Director of National Intelligence's bureaucratic turf wars with the CIA. There was speculation that bad blood between agencies may have inhibited the free flow of intelligence that could have prevented the underwear bomber's attack. And ironically, the ODNI was created in the wake of 9/11 with the express purpose of smoothing out communications between intelligence agencies.

Further, Blair was already damaged goods as he publicly backed the nomination of Chas Freeman to run the National Intelligence Council last year. Freeman withdrew his name after weeks of criticism that he was too cozy with Saudi officials and had to defend statements he made backing the Chinese government's treatment of protesters in the famous Tiananmen Square incident.

Following the Abdulmutallab failure, there were whispers Blair might be out of the job. Given Blair's apparent willingness to embarrass the administration yesterday, that might be a pretty good indication he is already on the way out. And Blair's lackluster performance notwithstanding, it is interesting that now it comes out that he thinks the White House is too lenient on terrorists.

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