The House Un-Intelligence Committee

It was one of the most significant al Qaeda communications of the Iraq War, but it wasn’t intercepted by the National Security Agency, you didn’t need a security clearance to listen to it, and you didn’t need to know a word of Arabic to understand it.

All you needed was to visit the website of the Middle East Media Research Institute.

On Sept. 14, 2005, al Qaeda’s Jihad Media Battalion posted online an audiotape of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi. MEMRI retrieved the tape, and posted the audio and a transcript of the translation on its own website.

It was Zarqawi’s declaration of “total war” against Iraq’s Shiite population.

“[T]he Al-Qaeda organization in the Land of the Two Rivers has … decided to declare a total war against the Rafidite Shiites throughout Iraq, wherever they may be,” said Zarqawi.

“Rafidite,” MEMRI’s transcript noted, is a term for Shiites “used derogatorily by Sunni extremists.”

“There are only two camps—the camp of truth and its followers, and the camp of falsehood and its Shiites,” said Zarqawi. “You must choose in which of the two trenches you lie.”

The master stroke of Zarqawi’s evil plan to stoke the flames of sectarian war came on February 22 of this year. That is when al Qaeda terrorists bombed the Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of Shiite Islam’s holiest shrines. Zarqawi was later killed in a bombing raid by U.S. forces. But his death came too late to stop the explosion in Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence that he had hoped to inspire.

“Sectarian conflict is the principal challenge to stability,” the Iraq Study Group said last week in perhaps its least controversial conclusion.

Now comes House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi’s choice for House Intelligence Committee.

Pelosi passed over Rep. Jane Harman, the California Republican who developed a reputation for bipartisanship as the committee’s ranking Democrat. She then correctly declined to name Rep. Alcee Hasting, the Florida Democrat, who sits on the committee, but is a former federal judge who was impeached and removed from the bench.

She finally settled on Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democrat, who is a Vietnam veteran popular on both sides of the aisle.

But when Reyes was interviewed last week by Jeff Stein of Congressional Quarterly, he could not answer a basic question, the answer to which could be gleaned simply from reading newspaper reports about the war, not to mention publicly available al Qaeda communications translated by MEMRI.

The question was: Is al Qaeda Sunni or Shia?

“Al Qaeda, they have both,” said Reyes. “You’re talking about predominantly?”

“Sure,” said Stein.

“Predominantly—probably Shiite,” said Reyes.

Perhaps this mistake would be understandable were Reyes newly elected. But he is a five-year veteran of the House Intelligence Committee.

“With a background in law enforcement and national security, Congressman Reyes was asked to serve on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence beginning in the Spring of 2001,” says his website. “Since then, Reyes has worked with his colleagues on the Intelligence Committee to understand how the terrorist attacks of September 11th could have occurred and to use these lessons to revamp the Intelligence Community in order to effectively avoid future attacks.”

“The work of the committee is critical to the security of our nation,” Reyes’s website says. “Due to the highly sensitive and classified nature of the material, however, members of the Intelligence Committee are often unable to discuss details of the committee’s activities with those outside of the Intelligence Community.”

Yet, Reyes is unable to discuss basic facts about al Qaeda found in the public domain.

How can Pelosi put someone this out of touch with the facts about al Qaeda in charge of congressional oversight of the U.S. intelligence community in the midst of a war with al Qaeda?

According to the Iraq Study Group, U.S. intelligence gathering and analysis in Iraq is still dragging.

Only 33 of 1,000 officials at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad speak Arabic. Only six of those are fluent.

“A senior commander told us that human intelligence in Iraq has improved from 10% to 30%,” said the ISG report. “Clearly, U.S. intelligence agencies can and must do better.”

“We rely too much on others to bring information to us, and too often don’t understand what is reported back because we don’t understand the context of what we are told,” an intelligence analyst told the ISG.

Is someone who didn’t know as of last week that al Qaeda is a Sunni organization the right person to fix this? Nancy Pelosi should find another chairman for House Intelligence.