Congress Firms Up Plans to Investigate Botched Terror Attack

Posted January 4, 2010 at 4:35pm

Key committee chairmen are scrambling to set up meetings to discuss security problems in the wake of the botched Christmas Day terrorist attack on a Northwest Airlines flight.

House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) has requested an interagency briefing for his committee on Jan. 13, which is the House’s first full day back in session. The briefing will likely include preliminary findings from President Barack Obama’s internal review and will give lawmakers a chance to ask questions of the intelligence community.

House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) is planning a hearing at the end of the month. And across the building, at least two Senate committees, Judiciary and Commerce, have already lined up hearings to discuss the aborted attack.

GOP leaders have been bashing the administration over the bomber plot and say the narrowly averted attack shows that Obama hasn’t been taking the threat seriously. One Homeland Security Republican, Rep. Candice Miller (Mich.), is already drafting legislation that would require the president to treat all terrorists as enemy combatants, which would strip them of constitutional protections and subject them to harsh interrogation methods.

Democrats, meanwhile, have conceded that the administration made mistakes with airport security methods but say that now is not the time for partisanship.

“Let me just say that playing the blame game — and figuring out what agency should have done more, my answer is all of them; and whether Congress should have done more, yes, we should — is not productive. Solving the problem is productive,— Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence Chairwoman Jane Harman (D-Calif.) said on MSNBC.

“There were analytical failures. There were technological failures, both human and systemic failures. And I applaud President Obama for admitting mistakes and saying we’re going to learn from them. That is a refreshing change from his predecessor,— Harman said.

The failed Christmas Day attack could complicate Obama’s efforts to shut down the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility.

Republicans have been railing against the administration’s decision to send some Guantánamo prisoners to Yemen, a plan the administration has halted in recent days. Still, the White House plans to try the recent airline terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, in federal court instead of military court, which will make the issue an early test of Obama’s decision to try Guantánamo detainees in U.S. civilian courts.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned Monday that the administration will need to pick up the tab for security during the 9/11 trials of detainees in New York. Schumer said he spoke to administration officials about the issue and expects the White House to include a specific line item for security costs in its fiscal year 2011 budget request.

“The bottom line is these are federal terror cases that will bring to justice, in federal court, the evil men behind the attack on our nation on 9/11. It’s common sense that the federal government pay for security costs because these trials will place a significant burden on the NYPD and the city to keep lower Manhattan safe and secure,— Schumer said in a statement.