- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

There were some telling moments on Sunday, when the intelligence reform battle spilled over to the talk shows. On “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace,” Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who’s pushing for the bill’s passage, summed up her argument thus: “The president supports this bill, the 9/11 commission supports this bill and a majority in both houses [of Congress] supports this bill.” Over at NBC’s “Meet the Press,” September 11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean was reading the same script: “[W]e got the support of the president, the speaker of the House, and the president of the Senate [and] the leaders of both parties. And when you see that happen, I’ve never heard of a bill that didn’t get through.” Allow us to rain on the parade.

While it’s always good to see so many in Washington working together, it’s also a sure bet that whatever they’re all agreeing on needs a second look. Doing just that are House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter and Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner. Briefly, Mr. Hunter argues that the bill would interfere with the military’s chain of command to receive intelligence and implement it on the battlefield. Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers agrees, as do the heads of the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy. Mr. Sensenbrenner’s concern is that the bill doesn’t address holes in the nation’s immigration policy, specifically those that allowed the 19 September 11 hijackers to receive driver’s licenses.

For their troubles, Messrs. Hunter and Sensenbrenner are being ruthlessly attacked as obstructionists, and, in Mr. Hunter’s case, lackeys for an agency that selfishly wants to protect its bureaucratic turf. Yet none of the bill’s supporters seem to be able to address Mr. Hunter’s argument on its merits. Instead, the bill’s backers argue that delaying passage will “risk lives.” Sen. Barbara Boxer told CNN, “If we don’t get [this bill passed], it’s going to be delayed, and if we get attacked again, it’s going to be a sad day in this country.” Don’t be fooled about what’s really going on here: Once Congress passes intelligence reform, it will claim immunity from any of the blame that would result after another September 11. Conversely, should another attack come before reform, Messrs. Hunter and Sensenbrenner will receive all the blame for their “stonewalling.”

The Washington Post, while disagreeing with the points raised by Messrs. Hunter and Sensenbrenner, also argues for further delay: “The proposed reorganization … has embroiled the 15 agencies and half-dozen congressional committees it affects in trench warfare that appears increasingly detached from the actual problems it is meant to correct.”

Intelligence reform is necessary, and reasonable people can disagree on what constitutes a good bill without being insulted. Rather than getting it now, we urge Congress to focus on getting it right.

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