Amid widespread criticism of the President’s national security team in the week after the attempted bombing of Delta Flight 253, the White House yesterday voiced “full confidence” in that team.
When asked at the White House press briefing if the President had “full confidence” in National Security Agency head Admiral Dennis Blair and in CIA Director Leon Panetta, Press Secretary Leon Panetta replied: “He does.”
Noting that neither the question nor Gibbs’ answer included a similar endorsement of Janet Napolitano, I asked him whether President Obama he had the same “full confidence” in his secretary of homeland security.
“He does,” the President’s top spokesman told me.
“And there has been so sounding out of people outside the Administration to wait in the wings for a possible [national security team] shakeup?” I asked.
“No,” replied Gibbs.
Earlier in the briefing, there had been several questions about the length of time government interrogators had to question Abdulmutallab between the arrest of the “Delta Bomber” on Christmas Day and his retention of a lawyer. NBC-TV’s Chuck Todd noted the press speculation that Abdulmutallab had “clammed up” since signing up his defense counsel.
Gibbs insisted that the man who attempted to blow up Delta Flight 253 on Christmas Day “spent a number of hours with FBI investigators” and provided them with “useable intelligence.”
“Do the intelligence chiefs who have been meeting with the President,” I asked, “Do they feel that the interrogators had enough time with Abdulmutallab before the lawyers came in?”
“It is my understanding that the FBI does,” Gibbs told me, “Yeah.”
“And the CIA and the National Security Agency?” I asked.
“I have not talked directly to them,” he replied, “I can certainly look into that. But, again, if you look at decisions that were made about [al Qaeda member and “shoe bomber”] Richard Reid — Richard Reid, after less than three days, had already been indicted, and that puts him in a criminal justice system here. He was tried in Boston and put in a maximum security facility in Florence, Colorado. The same is true of [terrorist] Zaccarias Moussaoi. He entered the US criminal justice system, was convicted not far from here and sent to Colorado as well.”