Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) has accused President Obama’s nominee to head the National Counterterrorism Center of misleading him about plans to resettle Guantanamo Bay detainees in Northern Virginia, an effort the administration later aborted, and urged the Senate to reject the nomination.
Obama earlier this month chose Matthew Olsen, currently general counsel at the National Security Agency and previously a longtime Justice Department official, to be the country’s next counterterrorism chief.
Wolf, in a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was troubled by Olsen’s actions as former director of the Guantanamo Review Task Force, whose members assessed all the detainees at the U.S. military prison and recommend whether they should be prosecuted, held indefinitely or transferred home or to a third country.
Wolf charged that Olsen “may have altered some detainee assessments — overturning Department of Defense assessments — in order to clear and expedite the release of a large number of detainees.”
The NSA referred a request to interview Olsen to the White House. “The president is confident he will continue to build on our strong counterterrorism efforts,” spokesman Clark Stevens said.
An administration official who participated in the review process, but who is not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said the task force had access to all documents and none were altered. The official said the task force, which included representatives from the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, considered the military’s assessments, intelligence reports and other material assembled from across the government.
“There was never a case of a detainee being approved for transfer without unanimity among all six agencies,” the official said. “Matt Olsen couldn’t dictate anything. He acted more like a neutral chairman and every agency was free to reach its own decision on each detainee.”
The Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and the FBI also participated in the task force.
The Obama administration has repatriated or resettled in third countries 67 detainees; the Bush administration transferred 537 detainees, including 198 to Afghanistan.
Wolf also charged in his letter to Feinstein that Olsen misled him about the administration’s plans to resettle two detainees, Chinese Muslims known as Uighurs, in Northern Virginia.
The Washington Post reported this year that the White House decided at an April 14, 2009, meeting to resettle the two Uighurs in the United States. Wolf said that during an April 22, 2009, meeting in his congressional office with members of the task force, Olsen said no decision had been made on the Uighurs.
After the Post article appeared, Wolf said he called Olsen who told him that he had, in fact, been aware that a decision to resettle the Uighurs had been made.
“I believe that I was intentionally misled by Mr. Olsen and other administration officials during my April 22 meeting with the task force,” said Wolf.