The ever-growing list of acronyms used in Washington has two additions from the counterterrorism world which you'll likely hear more about in the future: HIG and MIT.
Last summer, the president's task force on terrorist detentions and interrogations recommended putting together an interagency High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG, to deploy teams to participate in or support the interrogations of suspected terrorists in custody. The HIG would be housed in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and led by an FBI officer with two deputies, one from the CIA and the other from the Defense Department. The Mobile Interrogation Teams, or MITs, would be comprised of FBI agents, CIA officers and other members of the intelligence and homeland security community.
Not much was heard about the status of HIGs and MITs until the January congressional hearings following the failed attempt to blow up a civilian airliner on Christmas Day. Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, the suspect in the attack, was questioned briefly by the FBI after he was detained and then read his Miranda rights. AbdulMutallab then stopped answering questions. When Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair was asked by a senator if he was consulted about the decision to read the suspect his Miranda rights, he said HIG should have been called in to assist with the interrogation. But HIG was not yet fully operational at that time. Government officials had not completed work on the charter setting up the parameters of the group and its teams.
But now HIG and MIT are more than acronyms. With charter now in hand, the teams are now participating in key investigations including the recent Times Square bombing attempt, according to John Brennan, the president's counterterrorism adviser.
Brennan said Tuesday night the HIG charter was completed a couple of months ago and the resources pulled together. John Brennan said there have been multiple deployments of MIT's - even before the completion of the charter - to support interrogations of terrorist suspects held in both the United States and overseas.
Brennan indicated a team was sent to assist in the Abdulmutallab case, but there was a delay in questioning him because he had been Mirnandized and had a lawyer.
"There was a period of time before we were able to then follow through on the follow-on questioning of him, but HIG and MIT resources were deployed in support of that subsequent debriefing that did result in intelligence that we were able to gather," said Brennan.
The presidential adviser also said Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistan-American accused of trying to set off a bomb in New York's Times Square earlier this month, has been questioned by an MIT team.
Senior administration officials provided more details about HIG and MIT operations in a briefing with reporters on Tuesday. The officials emphasized that HIG does not have custody of any suspects. U.S. law enforcement and foreign governments control the detainees. Interrogation teams are deployed to support efforts to secure as much information from a suspect as quickly as possible in order to prevent attacks against U.S. entities.
Whenever a suspected terrorist is captured, the key counterterrorism elements of the U.S. government are quickly notified. According to the officials, that triggers an immediate discussion within HIG about whether to deploy an MIT.
There are three permanent, regionally focused teams in place to deal with terrorists in and from certain parts of the world. Other staff from the intelligence and homeland security communities would be brought in based on the expertise needed for any particular case. Members of a team may not necessarily be involved in any interrogation itself, but provide support based on such things as language skills, or knowledge of a particular terrorist group or region.
The officials stressed that MITs are not intended to supplant the role of law enforcement. One official pointed out that the Joint Terrorism Task Forces located in more than 100 communities around the country are made up of FBI, CIA, state, local and other government officials. The JTTF has employed the HIG model of interagency approach to interrogations. The official said an MIT would be deployed to enhance the JTTF capability.