Fwd: CQ Interview with Silvestre Reyes
- --- Julie Keller <jakeller@...> wrote:
> To: firstname.lastname@example.org---------------------------------
> From: Julie Keller <jakeller@...>
> Date: Sat, 09 Dec 2006 13:56:17 -0700
> Subject: [utepprogressives] CQ Interview with
> Silvestre Reyes
Congressional Quarterly has an interview with our
congressman andChairman of the House Select Committee
on Intelligence, Silvestre Reyes.
Democrats New Intelligence Chairman Needs a Crash
Course on alQaeda
By Jeff Stein, CQ National Security Editor
Forty years ago, Sgt.
was a helicopter crew chief flying dangerous combat
missions in SouthVietnam from the top of a soaring
rocky outcrop near the sea calledMarble Mountain.
After the war, it turned out that the communist Viet
Cong hadtunneled into the hill and built a combat
hospital right beneath theskids of Reyes UH-1 Huey
Now the five-term Texas Democrat, 62, is facing
similar unpleasantsurprises about the enemy, this time
as the incoming chairman of theHouse Intelligence
Thats because, like a number of his colleagues and
topcounterterrorism officials that Ive interviewed
over the past severalmonths, Reyes cant answer some
fundamental questions about thepowerful forces arrayed
against us in the Middle East.
It begs the question, of course: How can the
Intelligence Committeedo effective oversight of U.S.
spy agencies when its leaders dont knowbasics about
To his credit, Reyes, a kindly, thoughtful man who
also sits on theArmed Service Committee, does see the
undertows drawing the region intochaos.
For example, he knows that the 1,400- year-old split
in Islambetween Sunnis and Shiites not only fuels the
militias and death squadsin Iraq, it drives the
competition for supremacy across the Middle
Eastbetween Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.
Thats more than two key Republicans on the
Intelligence Committeeknew when I interviewed them
last summer. Rep.
, R-Va., and
,R-Ala., both back for another term, were flummoxed by
such basicquestions, as were several top
counterterrorism officials at the FBI.
I thought it only right now to pose the same questions
to aDemocrat, especially one who will take charge of
the Intelligence panelcome January. The former border
patrol agent also sits on the ArmedServices Committee.
Reyes stumbled when I asked him a simple question
about al Qaeda atthe end of a 40-minute interview in
his office last week. Membersofthe Intelligence
Committee, mind you, are paid $165,200 a year to
knowmore than basic facts about our foes in the Middle
We warmed up with a long discussion about intelligence
issues andIraq. And then we veered into terrorisms
To me, its like asking about Catholics and
Protestants in NorthernIreland: Whos on what side?
The dialogue went like this:
Al Qaeda is what, I asked, Sunni or Shia?
Al Qaeda, they have both, Reyes said. Youre
Sure, I said, not knowing what else to say.
Predominantly probably Shiite, he ventured.
He couldnt have been more wrong.
Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shiite showed up at
an alQaeda club house, theyd slice off his head and
use it for a soccerball.
Thats because the extremist Sunnis who make up a l
Qaeda considerall Shiites to be heretics.
Al Qaedas Sunni roots account for its very existence.
Osama binLaden and his followers believe the Saudi
Royal family besmirched thetrue faith through their
corruption and alliance with the UnitedStates,
particularly allowing U.S. troops on Saudi soil.
Its been five years since these Muslim extremists
flew hijackedairliners into the World Trade Center.
Is it too much to ask that our intelligence overseers
know who theyare?
And Hezbollah? I asked him. What are they?
Hezbollah. Uh, Hezbollah...
He laughed again, shifting in his seat.
Why do you ask me these questions at five oclock?
Can I answer inSpanish? Do you speak Spanish?
Pocito, I saida little.
Pocito?! He laughed again.
Go ahead, I said, talk to me about Sunnis and Shia
Reyes: Well, I, uh....
I apologized for putting him on the spot a little.
But I remindedhim that the people who have killed
thousands of Americans on U.S. soiland in the Middle
East have been front page news for a long time now.
Its been 23 years since a Hezbollah suicide bomber
killed over 200U.S. military personnel in Beirut,
Hezbollah, a creature of Iran, is close to taking over
in Lebanon.Reports say they are helping train Iraqi
Shiites to kill Sunnis in thespiralling civil war.
Yeah, Reyes said, rightly observing, but . . . its
not like theHatfields and the McCoys. Its a heck of a
lot more complex.
And I agree with you we ought to expend some effort
intounderstanding them. But speaking only for myself,
its hard to keepthings in perspective and in the
Reyes is not alone.
The best argument for needing to understand whos what
in the MiddleEast is probably the mistaken invasion
itself, despite thepreponderance of expert opinion
that it was a terrible idea includingthat of Bushs
father and his advisers. On the day in 2003 when
Iraqimobs toppled the statue of Saddam Hussein in
Baghdad, Bush was said tobe unaware of the possibility
that a Sunni-Shia civil war could fillthe power
vacuum, according to a reliable source with good White
If President Bush and some of his closest associates,
not to mentiontop counterterrorism officials, have
demonstrated their own ignoranceabout who the players
are in the Middle East, why should we expect
theleaders of the House Intelligence Committee to get
, the veteranRepublican senator from Mississippi, said
only last September thatIts hard for Americans, all
of us, including me, to understand whatswrong with
Why do they kill people of other religions because of
religion?wondered Lott, a member of the Senate
Intelligence Committee, after ameeting with Bush.
Why do they hate the Israelis and despise their right
to exist? Whydo they hate each other? Why do Sunnis
kill Shiites? How do they tellthe difference?
They all look the same to me, Lott said.
The administrations disinterest in the Arab world has
rattled downthe chain of command.
Only six people in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad are
fluent in Arabic,according to last weeks report of
the Iraq Study Group. Only about twodozen of the
embassys thousand employees have some familiarity
withthe language, the report said.
The Iraq Study Group was amazed to find that, despite
spending $2billion on Iraq in 2006, more wasnt being
done to try to understandthe people who fabricate,
plant and explode roadside bombs.
Rare is the military unit with an American soldier who
can read acaptured document or interrogate a prisoner,
my own sources tell me.
It was that way in Vietnam, too, Reyes says, which
If you substitute Arabization for Vietnamization, if
you substitute. . . our guys going in and taking over
a place then leaving it and thebad guys come back in.
. . .
He trails off, despairing.
I could draw many more analogies.
Yet Reyes says he favors sending more troops there.
If its going to target the militias and eliminate
them, I thinkthats a worthwhile investment, he said.
Its hard to find anybody in Iraq who thinks the U.S.
can do that.
On a temporary basis, Im willing to ramp them up by
twenty orthirty thousand . . . for, I dont know, two
months, four months, sixmonths but certainly that
would be an exception, Reyes said.
Meanwhile, the killing is going on below decks, too,
within Sunniand Shiite groups and factions.
Anybody who pays serious attention to Iraq knows that.
Reyes says his first hearings come January will focus
on how U.S.intelligence can do a better job helping
the troops in Iraq.
It may be way too late for that.
Stop giving me tests! Reyes exclaimed, half kidding.
Im not going to talk to you any more!
Next: More on intelligence topics from my interview
with Rep. Reyes.