Hunter and Sensenbrenner Continue to Hold Firm

It could happen any day now: A U.S. military unit heads into an urban combat zone in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle. Its members believe they know where Abu Musab Zarqawi is hiding. Their mission is to capture or kill the most murderous terrorist this side of Osama bin Laden.

Their chance of succeeding–and getting back alive–will be enhanced by accurate and timely intelligence fed to them from overhead satellites.

Question: Who should control those satellites?

Should it be the military commanders of the troops heading into combat? Or should it be a civilian bureaucrat–removed from the military chain of command–sitting in a velvet-draped office in Washington, D.C.?

Right now, the military controls the spy satellites that collect “tactical” intelligence for use in combat. Meanwhile, the Central Intelligence Agency uses these very same satellites for collecting “strategic” intelligence (about things like those suspected Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction stockpiles that the CIA–while relying on the satellites–did not recruit a single Iraqi spy to track down and verify on the ground).

Licensed Hijackers

The National Security Agency, which intercepts, decodes and translates communications, the National Reconaissance Office, which operates the surveillance satellites themselves, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which analyzes and integrates the data gathered into maps and other combat-usable applications, are all part of the Department of Defense. Their budget requests are generated by the military, and their chain of command runs from the commanders in the field, through the secretary of Defense, to the commander in chief in the White House.

Liberal Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, wants to take authority over these satellites away from the military commanders and give it to a newly minted civilian bureaucrat, known as the National Intelligence Director, who will have ultimate administrative authority over all intelligence operations both military and civilian. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D.-Conn.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, wants to do that, too.

House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.) is standing up for American warriors in the field by standing in the way of Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman.

Hunter is right. Collins and Lieberman are wrong. This is the main conflict that has held up the “intelligence reform” bill that Congress is currently considering in response to the report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

Now, consider another case. This one, sadly, already came to pass:

Nineteen al Qaeda terrorists board four U.S. jetliners. They identify themselves to the airlines using some of the 63 separate driver’s licenses that had been issued to them by various U.S. states–and, in some instances, which they had secured with the help of illegal aliens who had already learned how to manipulate the lax practices of state departments of motor vehicles.

The terrorists hijack the jets and crash them into the twin towers at the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Northern Virginia, and a field in Western Pennsylvania. They murder more than 3,000 people.

In response to these attacks, thousands of U.S. troops are deployed to Afghanistan to root out the terrorist bosses of these calculated killers. A global war on terror is launched. Many billions of dollars are spent. Many brave, young U.S. fighters are killed or wounded in battle.

Almost three years after the September 11, 2001, attacks, a special federal commission set up to study why the U.S. was so vulnerable recommends that the federal government “set standards for the issuance of . . . driver’s licenses.”

Never mind that it took three years and a panel of muckity-mucks to arrive at this simple, commonsense application of the federal government’s core constitutional function of securing the nation against foreign enemies and providing laws to regulate the immigration and naturalization of aliens. The fact is: The recommendation has not yet been implemented.

If another set of al Qaeda killers were to enter the United States this morning–this time walking illegally across the Mexican or Canadian border–many U.S. states would still give them driver’s licenses.

This is another conflict holding up the bill in response to the commission’s recommendations. House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R.-Wis.) is insisting that the bill actually carry out the commission’s recommendation on setting national standards for driver’s licenses. The House has proposed language that would effectively bar states from giving licenses to illegal aliens.

Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman are against this, too.

The majority of the Republicans in the House support the principled stand Hunter and Sensenbrenner have taken on the bill. House Speaker Dennis Hastert two weeks ago refused to bring a bill to a vote without the support of these two key chairmen. Liberals in the House, the Senate and the establishment press want to force Hunter and Sensenbrenner to surrender. But these two conservatives are standing up for America. President Bush should stand with them and insist that Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins surrender.