Two influential Republican members of the U.S. House have castigated the Bush administration for failing to brief Congress on Israeli bombing of a suspected nuclear facility in Syria last month.
In an op-ed piece in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, senior GOP member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the senior Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote:
“[The Bush administration] has thrown an unprecedented veil of secrecy around the Israeli air strike. It has briefed only a handful of very senior members of Congress, leaving the vast majority of foreign relations and intelligence committee members in the dark.
“We are among the very few who were briefed, but we have been sworn to secrecy on this matter. However, we are prepared to state, based on what we have learned, that it is critical for every member of Congress to be briefed on this incident, and as soon as possible.
“We are concerned that, although the Bush administration refuses to discuss the Israeli air strike with the American people or with the majority of Congress, it has not hesitated to give information on background to the press to shape this story to its liking…
“We want to remind President Bush that the Constitution invests Congress with various powers and authority over foreign policy.”
Referring to a recent agreement under which North Korea would disable its nuclear facilities in return for oil shipments – and to reports that Pyongyang was linked to the nuclear facility in Syria – the two members of Congress stated:
“The proposed deals with North Korea will involve substantial expenditures of U.S. funds to pay for heavy fuel oil deliveries. Congress will be asked to approve the authorization of funds for this expenditure. We cannot carry out our duties when we are being denied information about these critical national security matters…
“We regret that the administration has ignored numerous letters from Congress asking that all members be briefed on the Israeli air strike. Failing to disclose the details of this incident to the legislative branch, preventing due diligence and oversight -- but talking to the press about it -- is not the way to win support for complex and difficult diplomatic efforts to combat proliferation by rogue nations.”
The day after the op-ed piece was published, Hoekstra and Rep. Jane Harman of California – who chairs the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence – appeared on CNN’s “Late Edition” with Wolf Blitzer.
Hoekstra reiterated his call for the Bush administration to divulge to Congress details about the Israeli strike and the alleged Syrian-North Korean program.
But when asked if she had been briefed, Harman said: “I know what I know from the public media.”
Blitzer said: “But you're the chair of this important intelligence subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee. Have they briefed you?”
Harman answered: “No, they have not briefed me on what went on in northern Syria … I've had some conversations with Peter, but he's not free to reveal classified information even to me, although I have the clearances. That's just how the thing works.”
Asked by Blitzer if the reported North Korean link to the Syrian facility “raises alarm bells” for him, Hoekstra replied:
“Absolutely. I mean what we've found through the '90s and what we have found through the Bush administration is that the North Koreans, they'll always make deal, but the other thing that we'll see consistently is that they will break those agreements.”
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