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Our Nation's Security

Location: Washington, DC

OUR NATION'S SECURITY -- (House of Representatives - May 11, 2006)

The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Campbell of California). Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 4, 2005, the gentleman from California (Mr. Schiff) is recognized for 60 minutes as the designee of the minority leader.

Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, the single most important function of the Congress is to ensure our Nation's security. Since the time of the Revolutionary War when the Continental Congress directed the efforts of our fledgling Nation to free itself from British rule, the legislative branch has made the security of our Nation a priority.

Bipartisanship has been at the center of America's national security policymaking for much of our history.

In standing behind our Armed Forces and standing up for our diplomatic priorities, in supporting the Intelligence Community, and in supporting the President in times of crisis, Congress has often spoken with one voice. This unanimity was never stronger than the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

When President Bush addressed Congress and the Nation on September 20, there were no Democrats or Republicans in this Chamber. There were only Americans. That unity extended around the world to friends and foes alike.

In London, 2 days after the attacks, Queen Elizabeth ordered the Coldstream Guards to play the Star Spangled Banner at the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, the first time a foreign anthem had been played at that ceremony.

In Paris, the newspaper Le Monde ran an editorial on September 12 that was entitled simply, ``We Are All Americans.''

In the wake of the attacks, NATO invoked for the first time in its history, article 5 of the NATO charter, declaring an attack on the United States to be an attack on the alliance.

As American military assets rushed towards Afghanistan in preparation for the invasion that would topple the Taliban regime, NATO Airborne Warning and Control System, AWACs air craft patrolled American skies in round-the-clock patrol to protect us.

Four and a half years later, this national and international unity seems quaint. Here at home, our country is now bitterly divided. Our States are red or they are blue. Our communities are divided too. Americans don't even get their news from the same place anymore. Many Republicans only watch Fox, and many Democrats will only watch, well, anything else.

Overseas, we are isolated. Where America was seen as a victim in the wake of 9/11, in the capitals of even some of our closest allies we are now too often viewed as an aggressor. American troops are fighting and dying in Iraq while many of our closest friends sit on the sidelines refusing to provide even promised economic support.

The policies of the current administration and majority in Congress have not only squandered domestic unity and international goodwill; they have poorly managed the war on terror and failed to adequately improve our security here at home. Even as we spend $1 billion a week in Iraq, basic security at home remains underfunded. And as we shall hear from my friend and colleague, Chris Van Hollen, Afghanistan is in danger of slipping back into the grip of the Taliban.

In the days after September 11, the President vowed to capture Osama bin Laden, dead or alive, and that we would smoke al Qaeda out of their caves. Tragically, Mr. Speaker, Osama is still very much alive, and the inability of the pre-eminent super-power to capture him is as dangerous as it is emblematic of the need for a new strategy in the war on terror.

Tonight I have a message for the American people: the Democrats have a plan to win the war on terror. Our plan is tough, it is smart, and it is comprehensive. This plan is part of an overall effort to reconfigure America's security for the 21st century, a plan that we call Real Security.

Several week ago, Members of our party from both the House and the Senate unveiled a comprehensive blueprint to better protect America and to restore our Nation's position of international leadership. Our plan, Real Security, was devised with the assistance of a broad range of experts, former military officers, retired diplomats, law enforcement personnel, homeland security experts, and others who helped identify key areas where current policies have failed and where new ones were needed.

In a series of six Special Order hours in the evening, my colleagues and I have been sharing with the American people our vision for a more secure America. The plan has five pillars, and each of our Special Order hours has been addressing them in turn.

The first is building a military for the 21st century. The second is winning the war on terrorism. The third is securing our homeland. The fourth is a way forward in Iraq. And the fifth is achieving energy independence for America.

Two weeks ago, we discussed the first pillar of our plan, building a military for the 21st century. This would involve rebuilding a state-of-the-art military, making sure that we have the world's best equipment and training, providing accurate intelligence and a strategy for success, providing a GI bill of rights for the 21st century, and strengthening the National Guard.

In future weeks we will address Homeland Security. In the wake of 9/11, there have been numerous commissions and investigations at the Federal, State, and local levels as well as a multitude of private studies. All of them have pointed to the broad systemic and other flaws in our homeland security programs.

Almost 2 years ago, the independent bipartisan 9/11 Commission published its report, but most of its recommendations have yet to be implemented.

The Homeland Security plan will implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations. We will screen all containers and cargo. We will safeguard nuclear and chemical plants. We will prohibit the outsourcing at ports, airports and mass transportation to foreign interests. We will train and equip first responders, and we will invest in public health to safeguard Americans.

We will also be discussing a new course in Iraq that will ensure that 2006 is a year of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with the Iraqis assuming primary responsibility for securing and governing their country with a responsible redeployment of U.S. forces. Democrats will insist that Iraqis make the political compromises necessary to unite their country and defeat the insurgency, promote regional diplomacy, and strongly encourage our allies in other nations to play a constructive role.

Our security will remain threatened as long as we remain dependent on Middle Eastern oil. The fifth pillar and the one with the most far-reaching ramifications for our country and the world is to achieve energy independence for America by 2020. This will involve eliminating reliance on Middle Eastern oil, increasing the production of alternative fuels in America, promoting hybrid and flex fuel vehicle technologies, and manufacturing and enhancing the energy efficiency and conservation incentives.

The pillar of Real Security that we are going to address tonight is in many ways at the center of all of these issues. Since 9/11, the war on terrorism, specifically radical Islamic terrorism, has affected our entire conduct of national security policy. Unfortunately, there is a clear consensus among most experts that we need a new strategy to win the war on terror.

Tonight, I would like to introduce you to our plan. When Democrats are in charge, we will finish the job by eliminating Osama bin Laden, by destroying terrorist networks like al Qaeda, by finishing work in Afghanistan and ending the threat posed by the Taliban. We will double the size of our Special Forces, increase our human intelligence capabilities, and ensure our intelligence is free from political pressure. We will eliminate terrorist breeding grounds by combating the economic, social, and political conditions that allow extremism to thrive; lead international efforts to uphold and defend human rights; and renew longstanding alliances that have advanced our national security objectives.

We will secure by 2010 loose nuclear materials that terrorists could use to build nuclear weapons or dirty bombs. And we will redouble efforts to stop nuclear weapons development in Iran and North Korea.

Our first priority is to eliminate Osama bin Laden and destroy al Qaeda and its other terrorist networks. Who would have imagined on September 11 that after more than 4 1/2 years, the man responsible, the mastermind of the greatest single loss of American life in a single attack, Osama bin Laden, would still be at large? And now, in fact, al Qaeda has morphed into a worldwide amalgam of discrete cells that are even more difficult to track down.

Under Real Security, Democrats will use all of the tools at our disposal, military, intelligence, diplomatic, legal, to fight terrorism. To destroy al Qaeda and other terrorists on the ground, we will double the size of our Special Forces.

Special Forces were instrumental in working with local Afghan forces to drive the Taliban from Afghanistan, and they are uniquely suited to counter insurgency and counter terrorist operations. Unfortunately, many of the Special Forces units that were working to build a new Afghanistan were diverted to Iraq and replaced with less versatile troops.

Building a military for the 21st century begins with an acknowledgment that we are in a new era that has a set of challenges and threats distinct from those we faced during the Cold War. In this new world, we need a military that is highly mobile, self-sustaining, and capable of operating in small units.

On the one hand, our ability to use air power has extended our global reach and allows us to engage enemies without large numbers of ground troops being employed, as was the case in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

On the other hand, the war on terror, ongoing operations in Iraq, and the increasing need for American forces to play a stabilizing role as peacekeepers and peace enforcers demands the sustained commitment of American forces. Special Forces units are mobile, lethal, adaptable, and trained to work with indigenous forces, a key to winning against insurgencies and terrorists who are expert at portraying Americans as infidels bent on destroying Islam, undermining local societies and local customs and culture.

But even the best military cannot obtain its objectives without good, sound intelligence. In many respects, 9/11 was a failure of intelligence. Agencies that should have been sharing information with each other could not or would not, and tantalizing, vital threads were left unconnected. This failure was followed by the deplorable failure of our intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in which dissenting voices within the intelligence community were stifled, and group think took hold and steered analysis.

The U.S. intelligence community is made up of some of America's brightest minds and most dedicated servants, but these talented individuals are working harder and harder just to maintain a status quo that is increasingly irrelevant to the new challenges presented by weapons of mass destruction.

America's enemies today are different from those we faced during the Cold War and pose far more complex threats to our national and international security. We have more numerous and diverse intelligence targets today, with dozens of national and hundreds of non-state entities able to strike a devastating blow to our territory and our economic interests.

Furthermore, the weapons that pose the greatest dangers to our strategic and economic interests are difficult to detect and even harder to counteract. Both the 9/11 Commission and the Silbermann-Robb Commission advocated sweeping reforms of the intelligence community to streamline procedures and facilitate better flows of information and analysis. Both commissions identified resistance to change as the greatest obstacle to better intelligence for senior policymakers.

What we need is an intelligence community that is flexible, able to respond quickly and effectively to an ever-shifting environment and to the rapid pace of today's technological changes. The dispatch of Porter Goss as CIA director indicates that these changes at the agency have still not been undertaken. The coordination we need is still not present in our intelligence community.

The Intelligence Reform Bill that Congress passed in 2004 created a new Director of National Intelligence, but gave the office only ambiguous authorities to carry out its broad responsibilities. The challenges faced by the DNI are myriad, building better human intelligence networks, improving the quality of analysis produced by the 15 agencies under its control and rebuilding the morale of a community that has been badly shaken by 9/11, by Iraq and which continues to this day.

Even as the DNI, the Director of National Intelligence, struggles to control numerous organizations with separate missions and cultures, he needs to preserve a diversity of analysis and a community-wide culture that encourages structured debate among agencies and analysts over the interpretation of information while cooperating in a common purpose with a shared strategic vision.

For too long, the demands for current intelligence have presented the intelligence community from adopting a broader strategic perspective. Such an approach is essential for developing long-term plans, for penetrating today's difficult targets, and identifying political and social trends, shaping tomorrow's threats.

Perhaps the most important piece of our plan is a commitment to eliminate terrorist breeding grounds. Terrorists who attacked this country on September 11 emerged from a part of the world where oppression often finds its outlet in jihadi extremism and hatred of the West, especially the United States.

After the 9/11 attack, the President and other senior administration officials vowed to ``drain the swamp'' that birthed al Qaeda and other radical Islamists. Despite this boast, the administration has done little to combat the social, economic and political conditions that allow extremism to thrive.

Under Real Security, Democrats will fight terrorism, not only militarily, but also by leading international efforts to eradicate poverty, universalize education and provide economic opportunity for those who now provide such a fertile ground for the recruitment of suicide bombers.

We will also renew the long-standing alliances that have advanced our national security objectives for more than a century. We will encourage the growth of civil society, democracy and free-market economics in the Middle East. Extremism thrives and spreads in countries where brittle, autocratic regimes jealously guard wealth and political power while the vast majority of its citizens languish in poverty.

For example, despite the Arab's world vast oil wealth and its rich cultural history, the region has languished in large part because its leaders refuse to enact the liberalization necessary to release the power of hundreds of millions of people. We will use the power of diplomacy and economic aid much more consistently and effectively to bring about real meaningful change that allows for the growth of political, secular institutions. As we have seen in too many cases in recent years, millions of Arabs face the choice between secular, authoritarianism and theocratic rule by religious extremists.

Strong diplomatic relations are essential to America's security. As Madeleine Albright, who served as Secretary of State under President Clinton, has said, diplomacy is our first line of defense. During the last several years, we have failed to use this essential tool of American power wisely, and it has cost us dearly. Democrats will again make human rights central to our conduct of national security, living up to our values, even as we make ourselves safer.

In a few minutes, I will address in specific terms the threat posed by loose nuclear materials and the lethargy at which we are trying to secure those materials.

But before I do, I want to introduce my friend and colleague, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, to share his thoughts on the dangers posed, in particular in Afghanistan, but also his thoughts on intelligence reform and on the Democrats' Real Security Plan.

I yield to the gentleman from Maryland.


Mr. SCHIFF. I thank the gentleman for all of his leadership on these issues and the superb work he has done to improve the Nation's security.

You mentioned the growing problems and growing threats we are experiencing with IEDs, with suicide bombings in Afghanistan. I have had a chance to visit our troops there a couple of times.

I was very struck by what one of the soldiers I talked with said during my first visit. He said, You know, we all feel we are in the third front of a two front war, Iraq being the first, then the war on terror, and Afghanistan being the forgotten war. We have Americans fighting and dying there, unfortunately, all the time. For those that are on the ground, Afghanistan is very much the first front. Given the origin of the attacks of 9/11, it really is the first front in the war on terror. Given the presence of Osama bin Laden somewhere in the mountainous regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, that is the central front on the war on terror.

I want to touch on some of the last two planks of our war on terror plan, and then I would like to come back to some of the comments you made on the lack of oversight in this body, because I think your remarks are right on the money, and it is really an institutional abdication of this Congress not to do its job of oversight.

Under Real Security, we will confront the prospect, the specter, the danger of nuclear terrorism by greatly accelerating the pace at which we are securing nuclear material that can be used to make a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb, by eliminating loose nuclear material by 2010. We will also redouble our efforts to stop nuclear weapons development in Iran and North Korea.

While Democrats understand that no option can be taken off the table, we are committed to muscular diplomacy as the best option for curbing Pyongyang and Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Osama bin Laden once termed the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction a religious duty. Intelligence officials have warned that al Qaeda and other radical Islamists are committed to obtaining a nuclear weapon and using it against the United States.

A number of experts feel if we fail to change course, an act of nuclear terrorism is only a matter of time. They are equally united in the conviction that we can avert such an attack by taking a series of steps to prevent nuclear material from falling into the hands of terrorists.

The President has repeatedly called the prospect of a nuclear attack by terrorists the greatest national security threat facing the United States. However, the administration's lackluster efforts to prevent terrorists from acquiring WMD demonstrate a failure of leadership. In fact, the 9/11 Commission Public Discourse Project gave the administration a D grade in this area on its December 2005 report card.

The Democratic Real Security plan commits to an aggressive effort to secure by 2010 loose nuclear material that terrorists could use to build nuclear bombs or dirty bombs. The Democratic approach to prevent terrorists from acquiring WMD is tough and smart. It uses our resources and know-how to make weapons material and capabilities secure and to deter countries from building weapons in the first place.

In many cases, we know where there are nuclear and chemical facilities and materials that aren't adequately protected. Around the world, there are hundreds of tons of weapons grade nuclear material without the level of security we have established for our own nuclear material. This material is spread across hundreds of sites in dozens of countries. We must lock down these materials before they fall into the wrong hands.

But we are moving very slowly. At current rates of progress, it could take us decades to secure materials that could be used in a nuclear attack, a nuclear terrorist attack on the United States. We can do better. To do anything less is grossly negligent with our Nation's future.

A comprehensive strategy to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction has several parts. It involves securing nuclear material around the world to a gold standard and actually removing nuclear material from the most vulnerable sites. It involves detecting and defeating efforts to smuggle nuclear material and technologies. It involves strengthening the international community's efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

To protect Americans as fully as we can, we must work in a global partnership to keep these weapons away from terrorists and governments that would use them against us. The United States can't be everywhere, can't catch every violation or pay for every inspection. Illegal weapons networks now span the globe, and our partnerships to stop them must be equally global. We need other nations to help do this hard, expensive work and help communicate the benefits of playing by the rules and the consequences when the rules are broken.

We need our allies to share in the burden of global security. To get our allies' support, Democrats will press to include the security of nuclear material in the agenda and diplomatic efforts at the very highest levels. Without the necessary leadership, cooperation negotiated by mid-level bureaucrats will be limited to the slow pace of the last decade.

In addition, Democrats will work with the international atomic watchdog group, the IAEA, to develop comprehensive gold standards for the security of nuclear material and assure that other nations have the ability and will to implement these standards. The international community has demonstrated its support for this approach through U.N. resolution 2004. It will require American leadership to translate this vision into action.

Here in our government, Democrats will demand interagency cooperation and program innovation to accelerate progress on combating loose nukes.

There are several Federal programs working to secure nuclear material that do not interact well with each other. Further coordination will improve the best use of resources and the sharing of best practices.

The President has not charged the Federal bureaucracy with creating fresh and innovative programs to secure nuclear material, and business as usual or modest increases in funding to limited programs will not reach the goal of securing all bomb-making material by 2010.

We must also move quickly to secure the global supply chain. Millions of containers move around the world every year containing the goods that we need. However, they are also an easy target for terrorists to smuggle WMD material. Under the Real Security plan, every container shipped to the United States will be scanned at the point of origin.

Despite the urgency of this global threat, the administration and majority have not taken action commensurate with the threat. On more than one occasion, legislation has been introduced by Democrats to provide real security, but has been blocked.

An amendment by Representative Obey would have provided an additional $2.5 billion for homeland security, including substantial support for nuclear nonproliferation activities, but it was blocked by the majority. An amendment offered by Representative Markey to scan all shipping containers was also blocked. Legislation that I introduced to require the screening of cargo on commercial planes, on passenger jets, commercial cargo on passenger jets was also denied a hearing. The administration and majority have failed to translate the urgency of preventing WMD and nuclear terrorism into action. This must change.

After the attacks of September 11, senior officials repeatedly asserted that we had failed to prevent the attacks because of a failure of imagination. This was the central finding of the 9/11 Commission.

We know about the danger of nuclear terrorism. We are in a race with terrorists who are actively seeking nuclear weapons. The choice is ours: accept the present failure of leadership and risk a nuclear disaster, or take action to prevent it. When one considers the consequences, the choice is really no choice at all.

But I would like to turn now to an issue that was raised by my colleague from Maryland, and that is the role that we have in this body to provide oversight, oversight of the security of our troops overseas.

Today I offered an amendment to the defense department authorization that requires periodic reports on our efforts to disable, to interdict, and to destroy these improvised explosive devices that are claiming the lives of so many Americans.

I have lost at least four of my constituents in Iraq, most of them from improvised explosive devices. I am not satisfied that we are doing all we can to up-armor our vehicles, to provide the state-of-the-art body and side armor that will keep our troops alive. I am not satisfied that we are acting swiftly enough to deploy these technologies that are being developed to jam and otherwise disable these improvised explosive devices.

My constituents would be willing to line up around the block to work in a factory overnight around the clock to produce these materials to protect our troops. There is no lack of a willingness to serve. There is no lack of a willingness to sacrifice among the American people. But they have to be asked, and we in Congress have to provide the leadership to make sure that we are doing everything we can to provide the protection of our troops.

We also have to make sure we are doing our oversight in this body, to make sure that we have the intelligence agencies doing the work to protect us, and, at the same time that we protect our Constitution.

My friend from Maryland makes the point that administrations and majorities can choose their own policies, but they can't choose their own facts. I would add to that, Mr. Van Hollen, they can't choose their own Constitution either. We all operate under the same Constitution. It is a Constitution that has served us very well. It is a Constitution that has allowed us to adapt to the changing needs of the Nation and its people and to the emerging threats facing the country.

As one of our justices said some time ago, the Constitution is not a suicide pact. It doesn't prevent us from taking the steps we need to protect the country. But it does do an awfully important job of making sure, at the same time, that we protect our civil liberties.

I, like my colleague, have been very concerned that some of the NSA programs which could be done under the oversight of the FISA court, and in my view are legally required to be done under the oversight of the FISA court, are not being done with court review.

Today there was yet another revelation of a broader NSA program that may be obtaining information about tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of calls within the United States, a program that probably until news leaks today, Americans and Members of this body were unaware of.

Now certainly there is a need for confidentiality. But at the same time in this body, in classified hearings, there is a need for oversight. And we have not been willing to do it. There has been an allergy by the majority to do the oversight, to make sure that the limits on the executive go beyond the mere good faith of the executive.

When the Attorney General testified in the Judiciary Committee, I asked him what were the limits of the authority as Commander in Chief? Could they bug purely domestic calls without court approval? And the Attorney General said, well, he would not rule it out.

If that is the case, then what is the limiting principle? It is nothing other than the good faith of the executive, and that is not the limiting principle of our Constitution.

I would be delighted to yield to my colleagues the gentlemen from Maryland.


Mr. SCHIFF. If I can interject, Mr. Van Hollen. Prior to the vote on the authorization to use force, several of us were invited to the White House to sit down with Mr. Tenet. I was most concerned about the nuclear program, Iraq's nuclear program, about the evidence that you discussed a moment earlier.

And I asked Mr. Tenet and then head of the NSA, our now Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, how confident were they in the intelligence on Iraq's nuclear program? On a scale of 1-10, how confident were they?

They were a 10. They were supremely confident. And they were supremely wrong. And as you very well point out, this has had the most enormous of consequences in terms of this Congress making a decision to go to war, in terms of our credibility vis-a-vis Iran now.

When we talk about oversight, the lack of oversight has these most far reaching consequences.


Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague. I was struck, and perhaps you were too, as some of the networks pointed out with the near identity of language that the President used in describing his proposed nominee, General Hayden, for the post of Director of the CIA, saying that he was the right man at the right time for the right job, which was merely identical to what he said about Porter Goss a year and a half earlier, which kind of begged the question about what time he was referring to today. Is his proposed nominee the right man at the time a year and a half ago, or the right man right now when the last right man is being pushed out the door?

But I suspect what it means is that during the last 18 months the agency has been adrift and that we are not much farther ahead than we were a year and a half ago in assimilating our intelligence agencies and coordinating them and improving the quality of our human intelligence which was identified as such a glaring weakness within our overall intelligence capability.

But getting back to the consequences of all of this, the consequences of Congress' lack of oversight. When we talk about Congress being in the dark about this new NSA program, for example, the problem is that without someone being able to review whether these programs make sense, whether they are getting the results we need, we may be expending enormous sums of money and manpower and time and energy in fishing expeditions that lead us nowhere.

Even if they were within the confines of the Constitution, which is a substantial enough question, that does not mean that they are actually effective. We may have mountains of data about domestic calls to the United States that is of little or no value except to raise the anxiety of the American people that their privacy is being eroded.

There would be nothing worse than the erosion of our privacy without any commensurate benefit to the national security. But unless we do our oversight, it is impossible for us to know. And, unfortunately, I think that dearth of oversight has allowed these intelligence reforms to drift along or, worse, allowed the coordination of intelligence to degenerate over the last year and a half.


Mr. SCHIFF. That is very well put, and we have seen the consequences of our intelligence failures. They manifest. We have seen the consequences of our diplomatic failures as we are seeing in abundance now with Iran where we just had a terrible setback in our efforts to mobilize the international communities to deal with Iran's weapons program.

We have seen the consequences in our failure to stop North Korea from proliferating. But I am confident with our Real Security plan we can reverse the decline in our own national security, and I want to thank the gentleman from Maryland again for all of his great work and for joining this Special Order hour.


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