John Brennan, terrorism adviser.
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
WASHINGTON — White House terrorism adviser John Brennan said Tuesday a special team of investigators has begun interrogating high-value terror suspects in the United States and abroad, including the man accused in the failed Times Square bombing.
At a foreign policy forum, Brennan confirmed that the so-called high-value detainee interrogation group, or the HIG, has been at work for the past few months.
The elite team of investigators from the FBI, CIA and Defense Department was set up to question terror suspects as soon as possible after an arrest. The idea is to quickly extract information from a would-be terrorist to head off any plots that might be about to unfold and track down anyone who might have aided the suspect.
The White House was furious when it found the HIG had not been officially formed in time to question Christmas Day bombing suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab despite a direct order from the president late last year, according to one current and one former senior counterterror official.
During a question-and-answer session at a discussion sponsored by the Nixon Center, Brennan confirmed that the HIG had been used to question Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistan-born US citizen accused of driving an SUV rigged with explosives into Times Square in downtown New York City. The bomb did not explode. Brennan did not elaborate on the questioning.
The unit as it exists now is run by the FBI and headed by an FBI employee with two deputies, one from the CIA and one from the Defense Department, the officials said. Its three regional teams — their locations have not been disclosed — will be staffed by a full-time team of experts, including linguists, terrorist analysts, professional interrogators and others. The permanent teams will be supplemented by other government specialists, depending on the suspect. The teams' duties include questioning suspects, researching how to get the most information out of a suspect and other tactics.
The HIG's mobile teams also won't necessarily be the first investigators on the scene, the officials say. Inside the US, it might be the FBI or an existing Joint Terrorism Task Force unit that responds first. The HIG's teams would then be deployed on a case-by-case basis to supplement those efforts stateside or overseas at military bases or foreign detention centers if the suspect is held by a willing US ally.
Senior administration officials say that while the HIG's teams were
not designed to gather evidence for prosecution, they will work to
preserve evidence that might be needed in court.
administration officials insist the group can legally be used to
question US citizens or foreigners, and that includes the participation
of CIA agents.
The Defense Department this month implemented a
new rule that requires the videotaping of all interrogations on military
bases, but the rule does not apply when FBI and CIA agents are involved
or in a foreign nation's detention facilities.
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