- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004

Philosopher George Santayana said, “Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.” By that definition, there seems to be an outbreak of fanaticism in official Washington as proponents of the so-called “intelligence reform bill” insist it be enacted this week — even though, in at least two important ways, it no longer would help reduce America’s vulnerability to renewed terrorist attack.

First, the bill was not supposed to aim only at intelligence reform. It was intended to carry out the September 11 commission’s various recommendations — including some not dealing with changes to the U.S. intelligence community.

Arguably far more important in terms of reducing the chance of another terrorist attack on the American homeland are a set of commission recommendations some members of Congress have no interest in adopting. These pertain to border security, changes to policies and practices governing legal and illegal immigration and standards designed to make state-issued drivers licenses less susceptible to fraud and abuse.

I appeared last week at a Capitol Hill press conference with five members of September 11 Families for a Secure America who oppose the bill in its present form. This group represents some 300 of the families who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001 — far more than any other group and most especially the handful of self-appointed spokesmen calling themselves the “9/11 Family Steering Committee” who campaigned for John Kerry and now insist the bill be enacted as is.

It turns out vastly more of those whose lives were shattered by the terrorists on September 11 recognize a political certainty: If the present legislation does not make our borders less porous, or improve the government’s ability to monitor aliens here legally and remove those who are not and prevent terrorists’ use of identity and document fraud, provisions to do so are unlikely to ever pass.

Though polls indicate the vast majority of Americans want more robust policies toward illegal aliens, leading politicians of both parties choose to ignore such constituents. Instead, they defer to those who advocate on the illegals’ behalf — notably, well-heeled immigration lawyers, prominent Latino organizations and various industries whose profits depend on cheap labor.

Consequently, all other things being equal, if any bills dealing with immigration issues are taken up next year, they will likely be about “legalizing” aliens who have come here without permission. Whether called amnesty or not, that will be the legislation’s perceived purpose. The mere prospect will create new incentives to gain access to and/or remain in this country illegally — exactly the opposite of what the September 11 Commission had in mind, and sure to compound the illegal activities that made possible the last terrorist attacks.

The only chance to do something constructive about borders, immigration and drivers license and other document security is by embedding these elements in must-pass September 11 legislation. If elected officials get away with claiming their bill rewiring the Intelligence Community’s organizational chart is the only necessary response to the commission’s recommendations, you can forget about any action on this other, critically important front. House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner and those of his colleagues who are not interested simply in paying lip service to the idea of “making the American people safer” but actually doing so, understand this and must be supported in holding the line.

The second argument for killing the present bill is that the effect of its changes to U.S. intelligence are likely to worsen, not improve, matters. It will create more bureaucracy and more “stove-piping,” which are likely to produce more “groupthink” and less timely and actionable intelligence. These are precisely what reformers say they want to avoid. And we can ill-afford in time of war to create new chains of command for the Defense Department’s intelligence agencies. No one — least of all House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter — should be under any illusion that presidential assurances or minor language changes will correct a fundamental flaw in this bill, one likely to harm our men and women in uniform.

Legislators have no higher obligation than to make our country truly safer. If there is a significant danger a bill will not actually advance that aim, it is incumbent on them to address the identified defects carefully and deliberately — an impossibility in the last hours of a lame duck session.

The American people want and expect their elected officials not simply to get this bill done but done right. True presidential leadership will be demonstrated by recognizing that can only be accomplished next year.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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