The Administration's deft handling of the Wikileaks boondoggle reminds me of HIG. You remember, the High Priority Interrogation Group that the Administration decided, last year, would replace Bush's interrogation apparatus? HIG is supposed to be an elite team prepared to question "high priority" suspects and detainees whose information may be critical to stopping the next terrorist attack. Suppose you capture a member of a terrorist cell who knows where the anthrax bomb is hidden. Bring in the A Team.
After the Christmas Day Bomber failed to light up a Northwest Airlines Flight, it turned out that HIG wasn't quite shovel ready. From CBS last May:
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 last fall, according to one current and one former senior counterterrorist official. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not cleared to speak to the news media.
HIG sounds like the kind of thing we might need. We didn't have it when we needed it last Yuletide. Do we have it yet? CBS has more:
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 everything from linguists to terrorist analysts to professional interrogators.
Notice the future tense: "Its three regional teams will be staffed by a full-time team of experts." I take it that, as of May of this year, a year after the Administration decided to form the team and five months after the team forfeited the Christmas Day bombing try out, HIG still wasn't staffed. The locations of the regional teams are "undisclosed," I suspect, for the simple reason that it is difficult to locate something that doesn't exist. So far as one can tell from the article, there are as many agents in HIG as there are letters in the acronym.
Should these permanent teams ever be staffed, what would the staff be expected to do?
The permanent teams will be supplemented by other government specialists, depending on the suspect. The teams' duties include everything from questioning suspects to researching the best ways to get the most information out of them.
The HIG's mobile teams also won't necessarily be the first investigators on the scene, the officials say. Inside the U.S., 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 U.S. ally.
Senior administration officials say while the HIG's teams were not designed to gather evidence for prosecution, they'll work to preserve evidence that might be needed in court.
Did you get all that? HIG will question suspects and research the best ways to get information out of suspects. Hey, they can kill two birds with one water board by doing both at the same time! If he sings, Joey, write it down.
But they won't be the first investigators on the scene. They'll "supplement the FBI or an existing Joint Terrorism Task Force," and "be supplemented by other government specialists." They're a kind of bureaucratic interrogation sandwich! I am not sure if exposing a terrorist suspect to all these layers of bureaucracy doesn't count as torture. But at least the FBI really exists. Doesn't it?
The HIG teams "aren't designed to gather evidence for prosecution, but they will work to preserve evidence." So while they are waiting to supplement and be supplemented by all these other diligent public servants, at least they can pull on some plastic gloves and put cigarette butts into test tubes.
There are two possible interpretations of this story. One is the Administration concluded that the HIG was a bad idea and decided that relying on existing agencies was the best thing. They just didn't have the honesty or courage to admit it. The other is that these people couldn't find their own ass if both hands were duct taped to it. I wish I knew which it was.