If indeed the President is as committed to national security as he says, he might want to consider sitting down with Congressional leaders and putting a finer point on his commitment.
In February of 2008 in a state of incredulous disbelief I wrote about the House Intelligence Committee’s hearings concurrent with the release of the National Threat Assessment. The point of the post was to illustrate the difference in focus between the ranking members; Mr. Reyes the committee Chairman and Mr. Hoekstra the ranking member.
Mr. Hoekstra immediately focused the assembled brain trust on their analysis of the threats from radical Islam. Chairman Reyes immediately focused his energy on hiring diversity within the intelligence agencies with little to no attention paid to threat assessments.
Now, I search for a more significant adjective than incredulous to describe Mr. Reyes’s stewardship of this critical committee. Utter stupidity occurs, but even that seems to fall short of the mark.
Although beaten down by Republican members at the last minute Mr. Reyes’s behaviors are illustrative. He attempted to include a Manager’s amendment in the intelligence authorization bill not previously considered by the committee. The amendment would mandate up to 15 year prison terms for intelligence officials who “engage in beatings, infliction of pain or forced sexual acts” the bill further prohibits “acts including hypothermia, mock executions, and deprivation of food, water, sleep or medical care”. In other words, no activities short of polite conversation and tea service to high value detainees. Critically, Congress would assume responsibility for defining exactly what these terms mean in their application; given Congressional inconsistencies the definitions will become a moving target subject to prevailing political winds.
This legislation intimates, indeed must assume, that these activities are occurring and require legislative direction, when they are not. The 30 year war Progressives have waged on the intelligence community continues unabated. If you’ve been paying close attention you’re shocked, but you’re not surprised.
Democrats argue that assigning criminal penalties to intelligence officials simply underlines existing law. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D. Ill.) argues that the bill would actually enhance national security although her trail of logic remains uncertain. If it does nothing more than underline existing law why try to pass these provisions under the cover of darkness with no broad committee consideration or debate? The process illustrates attitude.
Apparently, despite the chill that Congress, the Justice Deparatment and the Administration have successfully put in place for the intelligence community Mr. Reyes believes that the threat of criminal penalties is appropriate. He must believe there is a rational justification for this manner of legislation despite all evidence to the contrary. He must be unaware of the carefully considered legal arguments that led to enhanced interrogation methods. He must believe that to “control” intelligence operations the threat of prison terms must be in place. He must believe that operatives living in fear of a mistake that could lead to prosecution is the proper contextual culture for intelligence operations aimed at providing security for each of us. He must believe that his view of political correctness supersedes the need for effective intelligence operations! Will Mr. Reyes step up as a responsible party when next, we fail to connect the dots because someone was afraid to take the extra step?
The bill would expand the number of House Members included in the notification process that, to date, has been limited to ranking members and leadership. This provision insures, based on recent history, leaks. It happened when Mr. Panetta notified the committee of a program to eliminate al Qaeda operatives that never went operational. In that case, 24 hours was all it took for the leak to occur. Leaking information about a program that never occurred must lead to the perception that it was no more than yet another opportunity to flog an already bloodied intelligence community.
Memo to the intelligence community from the President, Attorney General Holder, Speaker Pelosi, Mr. Blair, Mr. Brennan and Mr. Reyes; “don’t think, don’t plan, don’t consider alternatives, don’t be creative, don’t work you’re way all the way around a problem, don’t consider crazy stuff that might lead to other insights, don’t kill the enemy, don’t interrogate them aggressively no matter what, don’t pursue dangerous options, don’t extend yourselves, don’t take chances!
If Mr. Reyes has his way Congress will move from oversight to operational control. If Mr. Reyes has his way you may go to jail based on definitions that could change next month. If Mr. Reyes has his way your security is in question. If Mr. Reyes has his way we may accomplish diversity in the intelligence community but we will not accomplish much else.
If Mr. Reyes has his way the Intelligence Committee will require a new name; the No Intelligence Committee, the new name, effectively fitting its Chairman.
(With thanks to my lovely research assistant)