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Exciting Ride for Head of Detroit FBI: Going to Head Crime Commission

Andy Arena

By Allan Lengel
For Deadline Detroit

DETROIT — On Christmas day in 2009, Andrew Arena, head of the Detroit FBI, made a beeline to the airport to deal with a young Nigerian man — aka The Underwear Bomber — who tried to blow up an airliner.

“He slipped up and gave us some stuff,” Arena explained of the valuable global terrorism information the bomber gave up during the interrogation. ” I can’t get into because it’s still classified. We exploited a lot… We got some key stuff.”

Arena was directly involved in the decisions about the interrogating the bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, including when to read him the Miranda warning, an issue that would later become a “political football” in Washington.

Some conservative Republicans like Michele Bachman were highly critical, insisting the FBI shouldn’t have read the Miranda warning to a terrorist because it may have stifled the flow of valuable information. Many Democrats defended the FBI and Justice Department, which delayed reading the rights, but ultimately did after six hours. The Obama administration claimed it got plenty of valuable information about the plot and terrorism around the world.

“People used the national security issue for political purposes,” he said of the partisan bickering in Washington. “Yeah, that did bother me.”

Arena is a personable man who speaks fondly of his native Detroit. In his FBI office on Michigan Avenue downtown, he sat down earlier this month with Deadline Detroit reporter Allan Lengel to discuss his 24-year-career in the FBI, including the last five as head of the Detroit office.

Arena officially retired on May 31. He’s will take over as director of the newly formed Detroit Crime Commission. The commission, he says, will try unearthing corruption and other crime and try to fill some gaps law enforcement hasn’t been able to address. He says the business people funding the commission were shy about having their names in the press.

To be sure, his five years have been eventful.

Besides the Underwear Bomber, he’s gone after corruption in city hall, resulting in an indictment of ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who is set to go to trial in September. Arena’s agents have also doggedly pursued corruption involving Wayne County government.

What will happen to Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano?

“I don’t know,” he says. “We’ll see where the facts take us.”

He had to deal with his fair share of controversy, including the fatal shooting of an imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah, who was killed by his agents during a raid in Dearborn in 2009 after the imam, according to agents, pulled out a gun and fired, killing an FBI dog.

With all the many successes in court — and there were plenty — it wasn’t always perfect. Recently, a federal judge dismissed charges that a militia known as the Hutaree was plotting to revolt against the government and kill cops. The judge simply didn’t buy the case, saying their talk was protected by free speech. Two members ended up pleading guilty to gun charges.

It was an embarrassment to the government. Arena says he and U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade strongly disagreed with the ruling.

In Washington, Arena was a highly regarded bureau official, and while he was stationed there after Sept. 11, 2001, he briefed FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III regularly on terrorism. Arena also pushed back when the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney were pressuring the FBI to find a link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

In the book –“The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al Qaeda” — author Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent, writes of Arena, who at the time, was chief of the International Terrorism Operations Section:

Prior to the Iraq war, when there was a lot of pressure on the FBI from the White House to produce a “link” between Saddam Hussein

and al-Qaeda, the 9/11 Team’s assessment, again and again, was that there was no link. The White House didn’t like that answer, and told the bureau to look into it more and “come up with one.” Andy refused, and in an exchange (now famous among bureau agents), he told Robert Mueller: “Sir, in the FBI, we present facts. We don’t manufacture reasons for White House wars.” The director agreed, and the message went back that the assessment wouldn’t be changed.

The following is an interview with Arena, which has been trimmed for brevity. The questions have been edited for clarity.

Deadline Detroit: Tell me about the Detroit Crime Commission. What’s your core mission?

Arena: I think we’re looking at what are the gaps in law enforcement. First and foremost we’re gong to be looking at criminal enterprise, public-corruption-type investigations. As the FBI, I can’t go out and look at all these not-for-profits that people are using to funnel money through. Unless I’ve got reasonable suspicion that they’re using it for criminal activity, I can’t look at it. As a private entity I can do whatever the hell I want.

To read the full interview click here.


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