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U.S. missed chance to question suspect

Accused plane bomber was ‘Mirandized’ quickly

WASHINGTON – In a tacit admission that the U.S. squandered a chance to gain valuable information after the failed Christmas Day airline bombing, the nation’s intelligence director testified Wednesday that authorities had been too quick to read the suspect his Miranda rights and grant him access to an attorney.

Dennis C. Blair said that a newly created team of elite interrogators should have been called in to question Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and that top officials in Washington should have been consulted.

Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, is accused of attempting to bomb a Northwest Airlines flight traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit.

In testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Blair said the high-value interrogation group “was created exactly for this purpose. … We did not invoke (its use) in this case. We should have.”

Blair attributed the breakdown in part to a failure last year among those who set up the unit to envision scenarios in which the team might be used to question someone captured in the U.S.

“Frankly, we were thinking more of overseas people,” Blair said.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said it was a costly mistake.

“We know that those interrogations can provide critical intelligence,” she said. “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 … he stopped answering questions.”

Collins and other lawmakers also questioned the decision to try Abdulmutallab in a civilian court rather than move him into military custody to face a tribunal. Abdulmutallab has pleaded not guilty to various charges in federal court in Detroit.

Blair said in a statement afterward that his testimony had been misconstrued and that the FBI indeed had interrogated Abdulmutallab and “received important intelligence at that time.” But he and other top U.S. counterterrorism officials testified that they were never consulted on the decision to give Abdulmutallab access to an attorney or be advised of his right to remain silent.

The disclosure came as a parade of top national security officials made their first public appearances on Capitol Hill to explain how a 23-year-old Nigerian penetrated the nation’s defenses and might have succeeded in bringing down a packed airline had he not been subdued by other passengers after his explosive failed to ignite.