House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision this week to pack the House intelligence committee with Democrats — despite a clear recommendation from the 9/11 commission to keep politics out of intelligence matters — has roiled Republicans.
Concerned by reports of the “politicization” of intelligence, the 9/11 commission recommended in July 2004 that the House and Senate intelligence committees be almost evenly balanced, regardless of the number of Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
“The majority party’s representation on this committee should never exceed the minority’s representation by more than one,” the final report of the 9/11 Commission states on page 421.
The issue of how many Republicans and Democrats should sit on the intelligence committees is not just inside baseball. It goes to the heart of the way national security issues will be debated in the next administration, and how oversight will be conducted in Congress.
“We want to work together with president-elect Obama on matters of national intelligence, but the decision by Democratic leaders to make policymaking and oversight at the House Intelligence committee more partisan undermines that effort,” House minority leader John Boehner, R-OH, said on Wednesday.
“In the last Congress, Republicans led bipartisan efforts to strip all earmarks from the annual intelligence bill and pass terrorist surveillance legislation to help keep America safe,” Boehner added. “And now Democratic leaders are seeking political advantage on a committee charged with protecting the American people.”
The composition of Congressional committees is decided during the early days of the new Congress in January, as the recent election results are factored in.
Committee assignments and chairmanships are considered a “perk” of seniority, with longer-standing members given more say in deciding the committees on which they will serve.
As a rule, the larger majority a party commands, the bigger ratio of committee members, staff, and budget it will have.
The one exception to this has been the intelligence committees of the House and the Senate.
The Senate intelligence committee currently stands at 8 Democrats and 7 Republicans, and is slated to remain the same this year, despite sharp Democrat gains in November.
The House committee has 12 Democrats and 9 Republicans, but under Pelosi’s new rules, Democrats will increase that margin to 13-8.
Republicans didn’t object when they lost control of the House after the 2006 elections and incoming speaker Nancy Pelosi adopted the existing 12-9 party balance in the intelligence committee.
“We never agreed to implement all the 9/11 Commission recommendations,” said Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee, who was chairman before Republicans lost the majority in 2006.
But when Pelosi took over as Speaker of the House in January 2007, the first piece of legislation she passed was H.R. 1, "Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007.”
In floor debates, the California Democrat was clear to distinguish her party from the Republicans by saying that Democrats favored carrying out the 9/11 commission recommendations in their entirety, whereas Republicans took a more selective approach, arguing that President Bush had already carried out many of the proposed reforms through executive order.
“Going to 13-8,” the new ratio in the House intelligence committee Pelosi announced on Tuesday, “means that she views the Intel committee the same way she views the Rules committee,” which she is ruling “with an iron fist,” Hoekstra told Newsmax.
Hoekstra was careful to contrast Pelosi’s attitude with the treatment he and other Republicans have received so far from president-elect Obama and the transition team.
Obama’s White House chief of staff-designate, former Congressman Rahm Emanuel, called Hoekstra in December asking his advice on who should become the next director of the CIA.
Hoekstra told Emanuel that in his opinion, “it should be a civilian,” and recommended that Obama fire current CIA director, Gen. Michael Hayden, and his counterpart, Adm. Mike McConnell, who is Director of National Intelligence.
When Hoekstra told Emanuel last week that he would be supporting the incoming administration’s nominee to head the CIA, former Congressman Leon Panetta, Emanuel was pleased.
“He thumped my chest and reminded me of our conversation in December, and said that he had taken my advice into consideration,” Hoekstra tells Newsmax.
The message he has gotten from Rahm Emanuel, President-elect Obama, and other top members of the transition team starkly contrasts with what he’s been hearing from Speaker Pelosi, Hoekstra added.
“Their message is, we want to do everything we can to make national security a bi-partisan issue,” Hoekstra said of the transition team.
Democrats accused the Bush White House of politicizing intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs, to justify launching the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
But five years of highly partisan investigation by the Senate intelligence committee failed to turn up any serious evidence of White House meddling with the intelligence process.
Instead, Senate Republicans revealed that a key witness lionized by Democrats for daring to defy the Bush White House in public, turned out to have exaggerated his charges.
Former CIA officer Tyler Drumheller made his allegations of White House tampering with intelligence on CBS’ “60 Minutes” and with other media.
But as I revealed in “Shadow Warriors: The Untold Story of Traitors, Saboteurs, and the Party of Surrender,” Senate Republicans issued a stunning and unprecedented rebuke that essentially called Drumheller a liar.
After re-examining the entire classified record and re-interviewing former CIA Director George Tenet and other CIA officials involved in the operations that Drumheller disclosed publicly, the committee concluded that Drumheller had “mischaracterized” much of the information he claimed showed White House politicization of intelligence.
“The committee is still exploring why [Drumheller]’s public remarks differ so markedly from the documentation,” a September 2006 Senate Selective Intelligence Committee report concluded.
Keeping intelligence free of politicization will be important in the next administration as key national security issues are debated, in particular Iran.
Already, charges that the intelligence community skewed a National intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear weapons programs in December 2007 in order to prevent President Bush from considering a military strike on Iran have shaken confidence in U.S. intelligence among our allies in Europe.
“I thought the NIE was dead,” a top nuclear affairs advisor to French president Nicolas Sarkozy told Newsmax in September. “It’s not?”
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