November 20, 2004

Bogged Down in Foggy Bottom

Over at Outside the Beltway James comments on the defeat of the intelligence reform bill:

It's unclear from the reporting whether this is a case of the perfect being the enemy of the good or rather it was a wise avoidance of a hastily-considered bill. Clearly, the idea of merging all intelligence functions, including tactical level military intelligence, under a single civilian head was a bad recommendation. The 9-11 Commission had numerous big names on it, but few of them had any expertise in intelligence matters.

I second that emotion; however, I kind of get the impression that there were two threads of opposition, and one was reasonably principled/appropriate. The other . . . hm.


The sidetracked bill would have created a director of national intelligence and a counterterrorism center, along with scores of other changes to the nation's approach to gathering intelligence and battling terrorism. The measure would have given the new intelligence chief authority to set priorities for the Central Intelligence Agency and 14 other agencies that gather intelligence, including several at the Defense Department. Hastert refused to call the proposal dead, saying Congress may reconvene Dec. 6 to try again, although lawmakers had planned to close out the 108th Congress this weekend.

Even some key Republicans, however, said prospects appear slim for producing a compromise that the House and Senate can pass. "I don't now see a process for which we can get this done in the next few weeks," said Rep. Pete Hoekstra (Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence committee and the House's top GOP negotiator.

Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the committee's top Democrat, said, "I think those who are vehemently opposed are not going to come around." She said it is up to Bush, Hastert and other GOP leaders to overcome the House conservatives' resistance. If a bill is not enacted by year's end, efforts would have to start anew in the 109th Congress that convenes in January.

I hope the legislators who blocked this bill—which, keep in mind, might have passed had it simply been voted on—feel really good about themselves if we have a terrorist attack in February of 2005.

Hastert said the two chief opponents to the compromise were House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.). They persuaded scores of GOP colleagues to join their opposition in a sometimes emotional closed-door meeting of House Republicans. There, in a Capitol basement room, Hastert tried in vain to find enough votes to pass the bill without relying mainly on Democrats, a scenario too embarrassing for Republicans to endure. His failure seemed to stun many lawmakers, and some Democrats denounced the GOP for being unable to deliver a high-profile measure backed by a Republican president.

Is it starting to sound like "laws and sausages" yet? Keep going:

Hunter said he opposed the bill because Senate conferees had removed a White House-drafted section ensuring that tactical or battlefield intelligence agencies would still be primarily directed by the secretary of defense, even as they reported to the new national intelligence director. The compromise called for the president to issue "guidelines" on the respective authorities of the director of national intelligence and defense secretary, which Hunter said, "was elevating for the DNI but detrimental to the defense secretary . . . a change that would make war fighters not sure to whom they report and translate into confusion on the battlefield."

Collins called Hunter's argument "utterly without merit," saying the measure actually would improve the real-time satellite intelligence that troops receive in combat. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), another key negotiator, said: "The commander in chief, in the middle of a war, said he needed this bill" to keep the American people and military safe.

Hunter's opposition—in a point James hinted at at OTB—at least appears reasoned in the sense that there must be some instances wherein information should be confined to the Pentagon initially, before being shared with civilian analysts (without even getting started on the fact that the current incarnation of the CIA is leaking like a damned colandar).

And then there are those who appear to be 100% obstructionist, linking intelligence issues to immigration, which should be a whole 'nother debate. Wisconsin voters, please write letters to this guy, and never mind whether you're in his district or not (matter of fact, I may write one myself):

The past two days of negotiations were spent almost entirely on the immigration issues raised by Sensenbrenner, with the Judiciary Committee chairman often accepting proposals, then returning after consulting with colleagues with demands for new changes, sources said. At one point, the Senate staff by mistake offered language for one section that had been submitted by Sensenbrenner, and he returned it, saying it was not good enough, according to one participant.

What an idiot. A dangerous idiot. Please, please—someone spank this man.

Meanwhile, some Democrats have forgotten that the point of all we've been through since 9/11 has to do with our country being under attack:

Democrats ripped into House Republicans for blocking the bill. House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that "their inability to overhaul our intelligence system is a staggering failure." Harman called it "a tragedy for America." Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said that "the Republican leadership had a choice between protecting the security of the American people and placating its extreme right wingers. The American people lost, and the extreme right won."

Harmon's remark seems reasonable enough, but Pelosi and Van Hollen appear to think any day is a beautiful day for scoring points off of national security.

I'd love to see military intel stay under the control of the military. But marrying intelligence concerns to immigration is foolish and destructive.

And now the possibility exists that President Bush will have to limp along, doing what he can via Executive Orders, and that getting the situation fixed will have to wait till next year.

Would someone remind these people that, had Flight 93 not been delayed by 45 minutes on the morning of September 11, 2001, they would most likely not have a Capitol building at all to meet in and play their political games?

If these people break for Christmas without resolving this I'm going to be pretty pissed off.

Lean on them.

Posted by Attila at November 20, 2004 07:10 PM

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