Last week, the American people saw Washington at its worst. Partisan politics, turf battles and status quo complacency took precedence over Congress's most fundamental and sacred obligation - to protect the citizens of this country against our enemies. America saw members of Congress sent scurrying home by Speaker Hastert, leaving unfinished the most important legislation of all - fixing the core problems that allowed 9/11 to happen.
Neither of the controversial issues that caused the House of Representatives to falter justify holding up the passage of the bill. To combat today's threat of 'stateless' terrorists it is necessary for DOD's intelligence operations to be integrated into the overall national intelligence apparatus.
And who can deny that the intelligence failures of 9/11 and Iraq led to American deaths, both civilian and military? The bill as it stands now remedies the problems that led to those intelligence failures. We ask Congressman Hunter, what better way to protect our troops than to avoid war altogether?
The other controversial provision that calls for imposing driver's license rules against illegal aliens was not endorsed by the 9/11 Commission. Their investigation revealed all of the hijackers were admitted “legally” into the US, through INS. Nor would driver's license restrictions help prevent terrorist attacks perpetrated by "in status" foreign visitors, naturalized citizens or by cells of American-born terrorists.
Considering that an estimated 3 million illegal aliens and 500 million foreign visitors enter the US every year, clearly, the focus must be on intelligence that can identify terrorists who attempt to blend in with either throng. We cannot stop terrorists solely through second-tier methods such as driver's license reform. Sadly there are some who advocate letting the bill 'die' if the narrow issue of driver's licenses for illegals is not included. This shortsighted view has contributed to mischief in Washington.
The 9/11 Commission Report cites the best opportunities to disrupt the 9/11 plot involved Zacarias Moussaoui and the failure to track and watchlist two of the hijackers who attended a planning meeting in Kuala Lumpur. These missed opportunities are the purview of the FBI and CIA. There is simply no comparison between the effect of closing immigration loopholes and the impact in preventing terrorist attacks by creating an effective intelligence network.
There's no justification for holding up this intelligence reform bill based on the narrow agendas of Congressmen Hunter and Sensenbrenner. Congress must be brought back to vote on the bill as it now stands, with no further tampering that would diminish the authority of the core Intel reform provisions.
By blocking this bill, these Congressmen are blocking implementation of many other valuable security measures contained in the bill such as:
-development of biometric identification technology
-enhanced training of federal air marshals
-substantial increases in the number of border patrol agents and immigration investigators
-development of air defense systems
-air cargo screening upgrades
-expansion of watch lists to passengers and crew of vessels docking in the US
- denial of entry to aliens who have committed atrocities abroad and also makes them deportable
As an alternative, let Mr. Sensenbrenner propose an immigration reform bill and hold hearings as soon as the 109th Congress convenes in 2005. (There were no 9/11 Commission hearings on the immigration provisions Mr. Sensenbrenner proposes nor did the subsequent Congressional 9/11 hearings explore the issues that he suddenly inserted into the House bill).
Another alternative is for each state to tackle the driver's license issues individually. States don't need this bill to tighten their driver's license criteria, but only Congress in Washington can remedy the Intel problems and so this bill must not be held hostage to an issue that is fundamentally one of states' right.
Accurate intelligence is the first and best line of defense against terrorists. We need to have the agreed-upon components of this bill implemented NOW. America will be watching what Congress does on December 6th when they reconvene and whether the President shows true leadership in the days leading up to that event. He needs to appear publicly and state unequivocally that he supports the bill already drafted by the principal conferees.
Alternatives in the form of Executive Orders or Presidential Directives as proposed by President Bush are insufficient- they lack the force of law, circumvent Congressional oversight and can be rescinded by the President at a moment's notice.
We note the widespread negative reaction of the public to the dismal events of last week and remind Congress and the President once again of what it is they are elected to do - and of the empty chair at the Thanksgiving table of each 9/11 family.