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Fwd: CQ Interview with Silvestre Reyes

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  • Greg Cannon
    ... Congressional Quarterly has an interview with our congressman andChairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, Silvestre Reyes. Democrats’ New
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 9, 2006
      --- Julie Keller <jakeller@...> wrote:

      > To: utepprogressives@yahoogroups.com
      > 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.
      Silvestre Reyes
      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

      That’s because, like a number of his colleagues and
      topcounterterrorism officials that I’ve interviewed
      over the past severalmonths, Reyes can’t 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 don’t knowbasics about
      the battlefield?

      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.

      That’s more than two key Republicans on the
      Intelligence Committeeknew when I interviewed them
      last summer. Rep.
      JoAnn Davis
      , 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 terrorism’s
      major players.

      To me, it’s like asking about Catholics and
      Protestants in NorthernIreland: Who’s on what side?

      The dialogue went like this:

      Al Qaeda is what, I asked, Sunni or Shia?

      “Al Qaeda, they have both,” Reyes said. “You’re
      talking aboutpredominately?”

      “Sure,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

      “Predominantly — probably Shiite,” he ventured.

      He couldn’t have been more wrong.

      Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shiite showed up at
      an alQaeda club house, they’d slice off his head and
      use it for a soccerball.

      That’s because the extremist Sunnis who make up a l
      Qaeda considerall Shiites to be heretics.

      Al Qaeda’s 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.

      It’s 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?
      Civil War

      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 o’clock?
      Can I answer inSpanish? Do you speak Spanish?”

      “Pocito,” I said—a little.

      “Pocito?! “ He laughed again.

      “Go ahead,” I said, talk to me about Sunnis and Shia
      in Spanish.

      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.

      It’s been 23 years since a Hezbollah suicide bomber
      killed over 200U.S. military personnel in Beirut,
      mostly Marines.

      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 . . . it’s
      not like theHatfields and the McCoys. It’s 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,
      it’s hard to keepthings in perspective and in the

      Reyes is not alone.

      The best argument for needing to understand who’s what
      in the MiddleEast is probably the mistaken invasion
      itself, despite thepreponderance of expert opinion
      that it was a terrible idea — includingthat of Bush’s
      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
      it right?

      Trent Lott
      , the veteranRepublican senator from Mississippi, said
      only last September that“It’s hard for Americans, all
      of us, including me, to understand what’swrong with
      these people.”

      “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 administration’s 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 week’s report of
      the Iraq Study Group. Only about twodozen of the
      embassy’s 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 wasn’t 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
      “haunts us.”

      “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 it’s going to target the militias and eliminate
      them, I thinkthat’s a worthwhile investment,” he said.

      It’s hard to find anybody in Iraq who thinks the U.S.
      can do that.

      On “a temporary basis, I’m willing to ramp them up by
      twenty orthirty thousand . . . for, I don’t 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.

      “I’m not going to talk to you any more!”

      Next: More on intelligence topics from my interview
      with Rep. Reyes.
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