New Intelligence Chairman Clueless on Terrorism
CQ National Security Editor Jeff Stein interviews incoming House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes on his views about major terrorist groups. It turns out he has no clue whether al Qaeda is Sunni or Shiite and has apparently never heard of Hezbollah.
The dialogue went like this:
Al Qaeda is what, I asked, Sunni or Shia?
“Al Qaeda, they have both,” Reyes said. “You’re talking about predominately?”
“Sure,” I said, not knowing what else to say.
“Predominantly — probably Shiite,” he ventured.
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 in Spanish? 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….”
Stein muses, “It begs the question, of course: How can the Intelligence Committee do effective oversight of U.S. spy agencies when its leaders don’t know basics about the battlefield?” A fair question, methinks.
What’s so stunning, though, is not Reyes’ cluelessness but how pervasive it is among people who are charged with overseeing counter-terrorism policy. I don’t expect people at the supervisory level, who are generalists, to fully understand the deep history of the Sunni-Shiite split, let alone to speak Arabic. Still, you can’t supervise without a basic understanding of who’s who in the region and where the fault lines are drawn.
UPDATE: Ed Morrissey believes “The Democrats should seriously reconsider Harman’s expulsion. With the nation at war, we need people of expertise in these positions.” Of course, we don’t know how Harmon would do on this quiz, either.
Bill Faith‘s headline, “Intelligence? Un pocito” is amusing, if unfair.