Feds Lose Top Al Qaeda Expert

One of the federal government's most knowledgeable experts on Al Qaeda and related terror phenomena quietly left the government within the last few weeks. Philip Mudd, a career CIA analyst, had been serving on special assignment at the FBI as associate executive assistant director of the bureau's national-security branch since 2005; previously, he had served in various analytical positions at the CIA, including as a deputy national-intelligence officer for Near East and South Asia issues and, following the 9/11 attacks, as deputy chief of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center. In his most recent jobs at both the CIA and FBI, Mudd was so highly regarded as a specialist on Islamic terrorism that his departure from government service to private industry will represent a major loss of institutional memory for the entire government's counterterrorism apparatus. In an e-mail to Declassified on Wednesday, Mudd confirmed that he had left the government, adding, "I had a great tour, and [FBI] Director [Robert Mueller] was one of the best bosses I ever had."

Many people inside and outside the government who know him or know of him said Mudd's in-depth knowledge of Al Qaeda and its assorted affiliates—as well as the "lone-wolf" phenomenon—was unsurpassed, but that he also had a sophisticated and nuanced view of the terrorist mindset. He is known to have expressed the view that Americans sometimes helped terrorists achieve their objectives by overreacting to events like the underpants bombing attempt of last Christmas, and that it might be better to treat terrorist suspects like criminals rather than war fighters because the latter status gave them more esteem than they deserved and catered to their martyrdom fantasies.

Recognizing Mudd's analytical prowess, a year ago the Obama administration proposed appointing him as chief of the intelligence branch of the Department of Homeland Security, which, as we reported here, has been criticized by congressional oversight monitors as one of the intelligence community's weakest members, with an unclear mission and a workforce heavily composed of contractors. Mudd withdrew his name from consideration for the position, however, in the wake of indications from both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill that they might try to score political points at his confirmation hearing by grilling him about what he thought of the Bush administration's controversial terrorist-interrogation policies, which Bush critics labeled as torture and which the Obama administration abandoned. Mudd's service as deputy CIA counterterrorism chief coincided with the latter stages of the Bush interrogation program; people familiar with his views said he decided to withdraw his nomination for the Homeland post because he didn't want to become the focus of a heated debate over the legality of Bush-era interrogation practices and whether they really worked.

UPDATE, 4/22: The New America Foundation announced on Thursday that Mudd, who quietly left his post as one of the FBI's top counter-terrorism officials last month, would join it as a "senior research fellow" specializing in Middle East affairs and counter-terrorism.

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Feds Lose Top Al Qaeda Expert | U.S.