Steps to reforming intelligence and keeping Americans safe 

Two weeks ago President Barack Obama fired his top intelligence adviser — or at least the man who held the title.

In the six months before Dennis Blair was relieved of his duties as director of national intelligence, there were three attacks on U.S. soil, each one with troubling details. After Fort Hood, we learned that the FBI knew before the attack about e-mail correspondence between the shooter, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, and al-Qaida cleric Anwar al Awlaki and did nothing.

We know that the would-be Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, stopped talking to his interrogators after he was read his Miranda rights and that the interrogation was conducted without the benefit of the dossier the CIA had compiled on Abdulmutallab.

And the would-be Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, almost escaped after leaks about his identity appeared in the press. There is much more.

We were told by the administration that the system worked when it had not. We were told that the attackers had no connections to the international jihadist networks when they had many. We were told the high-value interrogation group was operational, and it wasn’t. We were told that 50 minutes was enough to learn everything knowable about a would-be attacker and his al-Qaida connections, a claim that was quickly discarded when he resumed cooperating and the administration wanted to let us know how much additional intelligence he was providing.

So someone had to go. Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano would have been better choices than Blair. But the decision to fire him suggests the Obama administration has finally recognized things had to change.

Obama’s first step should be to end the investigation of CIA interrogators by the Justice Department. The repercussions have been severe. CIA operators, already risk averse, are today far less willing to take risks in the field out of fear that a wrong decision, even a legal one that produced crucial intelligence, could send them to jail.

Nothing is more important, however, than a rethinking of interrogation policy. Obama ran on a promise to end “torture.” Most everyone understood him to mean “waterboarding,” but Obama has gone much further. By restricting interrogators to the techniques in the Army Field Manual, he has chosen to take away valuable interrogation techniques — enhanced means that do not constitute “torture” and that have proven effective.

This article is reprinted from The Weekly Standard.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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