February 2nd, 2010
10:00 PM ET
13 years ago

White House reveals secret cooperation with AbdulMutallab's family

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Senior Obama administration officials revealed late Tuesday they've secretly gained the cooperation of family members of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in order to help get the alleged Christmas Day airline bomber to provide actionable intelligence that could help prevent future terror attempts on U.S. soil.

The revelation is part of an aggressive attempt by the White House to push back on Republican claims the Obama administration mishandled the terror investigation by reading Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights shortly after he began cooperating with investigators. After giving the U.S. some information in the early stages of the probe AbdulMutallab stopped talking about his attempt to blow up an airliner with a bomb hidden in his underwear.

The senior administration officials disclosed that on January 1st, just days after the attempted terror attack, two FBI agents secretly flew to Lagos, Nigeria, to meet with officials of the CIA and the State Department and begin an extensive investigation to try and work with AbdulMutallab's family to gain his cooperation. The U.S. officials later traveled to Nigeria's capital city, Abuja, and eventually gained the trust of two unidentified relatives of the suspect.

On January 17, the FBI agents secretly flew back to the U.S. with the two relatives in order to work with the suspect. One senior Obama administration official said the family members privately conveyed to the suspect they "had complete trust in the U.S. system" and they believed he "would be treated fairly" by the Obama administration.

The senior administration officials said that since AbdulMutallab began talking to investigation again last week, he has been cooperating on a daily basis. The officials added the information gained from the interrogations has been disseminated throughout the intelligence community.

One of the senior Obama officials, who bluntly said the Republican attacks have "frustrated the hell out of me," said Abdulmutallab began cooperating again with U.S. investigators last week. The senior officials asserted that gaining the trust of the family was the best way to handle the case and helped the administration gain valuable intelligence from the suspect, who is believed to have ties to an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen.

"It could be used to disrupt other attacks," one of the senior Obama officials said of the intelligence gleaned from Abdulmutallab in the interrogations, who added the President has been getting regular updates on what the suspect has been revealing.

Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, charged Saturday in the GOP weekly radio and Internet address that the White House botched the handling of Abdulmutallab. "The Obama administration appears to have a blind spot when it comes to the war on terrorism," she said.

In releasing the new information, senior administration officials were direct about saying they're trying to show the case has been handled properly and the Obama administration is doing all it can to keep the country safe from future attacks. One of the senior administration officials said "we are in a very active war against al-Qaeda" and "very experienced individuals who know what they're doing" are handling the interrogations well despite the charges by Republicans.

"We'll leave it to them, not politicians in Washington," said this senior administration official.

A second senior administration official suggested that the U.S. did not lose any valuable intelligence by taking extra time to get the suspect's cooperation through his family. Pressed on reports suggesting the intelligence being gained in the new interrogations is not stale, this second official said: "I would not disagree with that at all."

Filed under: Terrorism
soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. C. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    Republicans worship Bush/Cheney methods which was no more than theatrics due to their failure resulting in 9/11. It didn't work then and it doesn't work now. Actionable intelligence is and can only be acquired through intellectual know how and not waterboarding someone until they will say "yes" to anything to stop the torture. Thank God that this administration has learned through Bush/Cheney failures despite the fact that Cheney wishes another terrorist attack hoping to absolute himself of his failures.

    February 2, 2010 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  2. Thank you Massachusetts

    Obama is very fortunate that in between the time he stopped giving information and when he began again there was not another attack.

    February 2, 2010 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  3. That approach would be good except......

    that in most cases you won't be able to find the family unless you search all the caves in Afghanistan and Pakistan.....

    February 2, 2010 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  4. Franky, Land of Lincoln

    I do want our government to do a better job, mostly our Administration because they do look bad, they look disorganized with this serious issue. Maybe is a lack of experience or understanding but we are at war, war is not fun, politics is.

    I think I trust them, I do but they look incompetent at times, the Administration did a good job on the Pirate Hijacking, remember that? We gave em props, we gave em love on the issue, that matters, it really does. But after that, that was it, a couple of mistakes and errors that make themselves look bad. They gotta do a better job at it, and I hope they do.

    "As long you keep getting born, it's alright to die sometimes."-Orson Scott C.

    February 2, 2010 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  5. Donkey Party

    CNN, is it too difficult in your pursuit of poor journalism to report the fact that the suspect was apprehended and read his rights without the arresting agents notifying the President first? Makes you wonder if there was any political motivation on behalf of the arresting agents. Given the fact that over 2/3 of Right-wingers question the legitimacy of President Obama, is it inconceivable that an agent with "conservative" views might see this as an opportunity to cause a potentially embarrassing situation for the President? There is no level the sub-human Right-wing will sink to in order to regain power.

    February 2, 2010 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  6. Illinoistom

    Will they ever disclose how big the bribe was?

    February 2, 2010 10:46 pm at 10:46 pm |
  7. Bob from Pittsburgh


    February 2, 2010 10:50 pm at 10:50 pm |
  8. Alec

    Well, there goes the theory that information from terrorists can only be elicited via a military trail. Torture not needed here. However, this revelation is surely torturous to the rightwingers.

    February 2, 2010 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  9. Scott, Tucson

    Too late, any vital Intel this pantie bomber had is now useless being that his handlers would have moved on leaving a cold trail. Now what was the bargaining lever to make the family talk...the D.A. asking for a lenient sentence of maybe 2-5 yrs? Maybe Gibbs statement the other day was meant to taint the prospective jury and the terrorist get his case thrown out.

    February 2, 2010 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  10. Katie B in NC

    Sen. Susan Collins: "The Obama administration appears to have a blind spot when it comes to the war on terrorism."
    The GOP appears to have a blind spot when it comes to prosecuting it correctly.

    February 2, 2010 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  11. Sue

    Obama, Holder, Napolitano and the rest of the liberal Democrats--have now placed US citizens in increased danger. They are more concerned about the rights of a terrorist-–than they are the rights of US citizens to be safe/secure.

    The underwear bomber was only questioned/interrogated for 50 minutes-–before he was read his miranda rights and allowed to lawyer up. This is unbelievable.

    PLEASE resign Obama--and go and find a community to organize.

    February 2, 2010 11:35 pm at 11:35 pm |
  12. vwrtb

    Poor idiot republicans...

    February 2, 2010 11:58 pm at 11:58 pm |
  13. Lopez

    What's with all the "senior obama administration official" business? This story has no substance whatsoever. Why isn't the official named? What's the secret? Sounds more like a National Enquirer story than from a "news" organization. This, the same day I read about obama apologizing, again, for smearing the city of Las Vegas, Nevada. The same day I read about his chief of staff apologizing for using his foul mouth to slur disabled people. The same day I read about the education secretary apologizing for his miscue. What the hell kind of administration did you people vote in? I know I didn't vote it in. This adminstration is an embarrassment to the people of America and a shame on the office of the Presidency.

    February 2, 2010 11:58 pm at 11:58 pm |
  14. Michael from Ventura

    This was done without torture, and without dropping any of our Coutry's priciples- Wow! I'm sure Dick Cheney hates it- I love it!

    February 3, 2010 12:09 am at 12:09 am |
  15. Biased

    From the article:
    "Senior Obama administration officials revealed late Tuesday they've secretly gained the cooperation of family members of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in order to help get the alleged Christmas Day airline bomber to provide actionable intelligence that could help prevent future terror attempts on U.S. soil."

    So it appears their 50 minute interrogation that they touted for gaining all the information he had to give was nothing more than an outright lie and this behind the scenes actions are nothing more than the WH covering up for DOJ incompetence. At least they did the right thing in trying to do something after the fact otherwise the democratic claim of being tough on terror would be laughable. Maybe next time they can do things right the first time rather than have to go to enormous lengths to cover their own behinds.

    February 3, 2010 12:28 am at 12:28 am |
  16. Albert R., L.A., CA

    What is the big deal about telling a guy who wnats to blow himself up that he has the right to remain silent?

    February 3, 2010 12:29 am at 12:29 am |
  17. Texas Jack

    There is no telling what he promised them. A beach in Hawaii most likely. What else would a muslim do for another muslim.

    February 3, 2010 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  18. Clifford in New York

    This is another major screw up by the Obama administration. The terrorists must be bent over laughing at us. What a bunch of morons!

    February 3, 2010 12:42 am at 12:42 am |
  19. Clifford in New York

    Hey,has anyone heard from that Liberal bigmouth "Texas Teacher" lately?

    February 3, 2010 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  20. John

    Can ya feel it?

    Republicans are just itching for a deadly terrorist attack on a US target so it can be blamed on Obama.

    Feel the love.

    February 3, 2010 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  21. Jeff

    At first I thought that this bunch of bozos was simply incompetent, but this is even more frightening. These "Senior Administration Officials" and the rest of the Obama Administration really think that Americans are stupid enough to buy this line of crap.. NEWS FLASH! The majority of people in the US think that we should honor Abdulmutallab's wishes by lighting him on fire and throwing him out of the plane at 30,000 feet.

    February 3, 2010 01:15 am at 1:15 am |
  22. ThinkAgain

    Republicans need to stuff socks in their collective mouths! They will say and do anything to try to make our president and our country fail.

    And what's even more amazing is how the Republican "base" believes all this nonsense! As if all our intelligence agencies and the people who work for them – people who every day work to protect our freedom – are all a bunch of doofuses and don't give a rat's fanny about national security!

    How insulting and despicable – all for the sake of trying to score some political points.

    GOP = Party Before Country

    February 3, 2010 01:17 am at 1:17 am |
  23. ThinkAgain

    No amount of lies from the GOP will ever change the fact that GW Bush and his team ignored the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing entitled, "Al Qaeda Determined to Attack the U.S. Using Airplanes."

    No amount of fear-mongering or self-righteous chest thumping will ever change the fact that after 8 years of failed GW Bush policies, our country was brought to the brink of financial collapse.

    No amount of distortion will change the fact that GW Bush and his band of Chicken Hawks dropped the ball on Afghanistan and bringing Osama bin Laden to justice, lied us into a war in Iraq, and botched the whole endeavor to the tune of trillions of dollars and thousands of lives lost.

    The Republicans are the ones who don't know squat about national security! And they should simply SHUT UP!

    February 3, 2010 01:22 am at 1:22 am |
  24. Arielle

    Imagine that, you get a kid to start talking by getting his parents involved. The administration is probably getting more information from this kid than Bush ever did torturing people.

    February 3, 2010 01:32 am at 1:32 am |
  25. J.V.Hodgson

    My god have you no integrity at all
    " secretly gained cooperation" is stretching journalistic integrity beyond its limits.
    They have obtained and publicised the " cooperation they sought" from his family and the accused.
    And have gained valuable intelligence accordingly.
    I fail to see the difference in the news reporting style I give above in its value to readers except to say " cooperation they sought" is factual, truthful, etc but lacks the non relevant or necessarily true " secretly gained cooperation" which is your pure dramatisation of reality.
    Your truth meter is close to zero = total lies in your words in this case!
    Moderate that out if you dare.

    February 3, 2010 01:46 am at 1:46 am |
1 2