WASHINGTON (AFP) â€“ The White House demanded an apology on Thursday after a top US senator said it may have helped violent extremists by disclosing that the Christmas bomb plot suspect was cooperating with interrogators.
Republican Senator Kit Bond, his party’s senior member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a letter to President Barack Obama that he was “deeply disturbed” by revelations in a Tuesday briefing.
In that session, senior US officials told reporters at the White House that US counter-terrorism officials enlisted some of accused bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s relatives in a successful bid to get him to talk.
“This information immediately hit the air waves globally and, no doubt, reached the ears of our enemies abroad,” Bond said, warning that the disclosure “has no doubt been helpful to his terrorist cohorts around the world.”
But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs bristled at the accusation that the administration had misused classified information.
“I think an apology on that is owed because it’s not true,” Gibbs said, saying Bond should say sorry to law enforcement professionals who would never treat such information in such a way.
“I think that the reason that charge is made is only to play politics. I think if you look at the letter, clearly this is about politics.”
Gibbs said that the White House had only briefed reporters when it became clear from testimony by top law enforcement officials in Congress that Abdulmutallab had been talking to investigators.
The White House had been hitting back hard at Republican charges that it lost valuable intelligence by treating Abdulmutallab as a criminal and informing him of his right to remain silent.
Obama aides have underlined that authorities followed established practice to the letter and accused Republicans of seeking political gain by attacking methods they did not criticize when used by George W. Bush.
“It frustrated the hell out of me that I had to listen to a lot of the comments being made that were criticizing this process,” said one of the briefers, who told reporters the session was in response to a leak.
Bond said FBI Director Robert Mueller had informed key lawmakers Monday that Abdulmutallab was providing “critical information” and emphasized that “keeping the fact of his cooperation quiet was vital to preventing future attacks against the United States.”
“Twenty-four hours later, however, White House staff assembled members of the media to announce Abdulmutallab?s cooperation and to laud the events that led to his decision to cooperate with law enforcement personnel,” said Bond.
“Consider the consequences of publicly disseminating sensitive information vital to the defense of the American people. I do not believe the American people want this information jeopardized to further political arguments,” he wrote.
US officials accuse Abdulmutallab, allegedly trained in Yemen by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, of trying to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear on a Northwest Airlines plane approaching Detroit on December 25.