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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Border Congressman's Record on Intelligence

Earmark and campaign funding scandals continue to tarnish Silver’s image an independent-thinking moderate. Since becoming chair of the intelligence committee, he has adopted positions that caused consternation, particularly for liberal Democrats.
Reyes’ vote against the October 2002 resolution authorizing military force in Iraq, his support for immigration reform, and his opposition to the border fence have given Reyes a base of support among liberals.
But his strong support for increased budgetary allocations for Iraq and Afghanistan, prominent role in support of missile and star war defense systems, continuing advocacy of increased border security including the so-called virtual defense and expanded Border Patrol presence, and close ties with the military and military contractors have burnished his reputation as a national security hawk.
While named chairman of the House Permanent Intelligence Committee by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi because of willingness to buck the Bush administration (initially, at least) on the Iraq war and because of his credentials as a Democratic Party team player, Reyes has in his new position not distinguished himself as a independent voice in national security and intelligence issues.
One indicator of his hardliner approach to intelligence was his surprising recommendation that president-elect Obama retain President Bush’s directors of the CIA and the National Security Agency. In December 2008, Reyes told CongressDaily (Dec. 10) that he recommended to the Obama transition team that then-Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and then-CIA Director Michael Hayden should be kept in their posts at least six months. Despite a widespread conviction about Democrats that it was time to turn the page on the intelligence and domestic surveillance practices of the Bush administration, Reyes said, "There's got to be some continuity, and the leadership of both the CIA and the DNI is going to be pivotal to keeping us safe and secure," Reyes said. Hayden had come under sharp criticism in Congress for having been in charge of the National Security Agency when it started conducting widespread electronic surveillance of U.S. citizens after the Sept. 11 attacks. While McConnell wasn’t tied directly to the warrantless wiretapping, there was growing concern in Congress that CIA wasn’t adequately briefing it on its operations, and he also drew criticism from many Democrats for his role in crafting and pressing for the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 2008, which gave the intelligence community for some domestic surveillance. Reyes’s position on torture has been overly nuanced, according to critics. According to the CongressDaily report, Reyes recommended that the incoming administration continue parts of the CIA’s alternative interrogation program. While critics, including some within the intelligence community, have charged that the CIA’s interrogation practices included routine use of torture, Reyes told the transition team that it needed to find the right balance, which would not include torture but would allow the CIA to extract valuable information from suspected terrorists. But he was typically vague about his own convictions about torture. "There are those that believe that this particular issue has to be dealt with very carefully because there are beliefs that there are some options that need to be available," Reyes said. In a formulation that sounded much like that of the Bush administration, Reyes said, ‘We don't want to be known for torturing people. At the same time we don't want to limit our ability to get information that's vital and critical to our national security.” Reyes also came down on the side of the Bush administration when he opposed adding language to the fiscal 2009 authorization bill prohibiting intelligence agencies from using any interrogation methods not authorized by the Field Manual. Another controversial vote was his June 2008 vote in favor a bill that would grant retroactive immunity to telecom companies like AT&T that participated in warrantless surveillance on U.S. citizens. Reyes has continued to disappoint in his unwillingness to exercise strong congressional oversight of the intelligence community. While Reyes has not publicly opposed the decision of Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate CIA interrogation practices in the wake of the release of a report by the Office of Inspector General on torture, neither did he support it, politically positioning himself in the middle. In a typically bland statement, Reyes said, "In nearly every case, the men and women at the CIA were following what they believed to be lawful guidance. Rather than point fingers and assign blame, we need to carefully examine the mechanisms that allowed this guidance to be developed and implemented and enact reforms that will guard against such institutional failures." The office of the Inspector General was created by Congress in wake of the Iran-Contra scandal in which CIA operatives independently mounted clandestine operations. After serving four years, OIG director John Helgerson stepped down in early February 2009. His independence alarmed the Bush administration and CIA director Michael Hayden launched an executive investigation of the agency’s own inspector general. The Obama administration has been content to leave the office vacant these last seven months, thereby substantially reducing any oversight of the agency. The failure of Reyes and Sen. Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to insist that the OIG directorship be filled has sparked criticism among intelligence reformers. Melvin Goodman, author of The Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA, wrote: “The weakening of the OIG by CIA leadership is an affront to Congress, particularly to Feinstein and Reyes; they are demonstrating a dereliction of duty.”
Image: El Paso Newspaper Tree

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