Sept 21 -- Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert of Illinois and Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri momentarily stood shoulder-to-shoulder in order to address the media concerning the establishment of a special subcommittee on terrorism. “We must make appropriate updates in order to adequately combat ... horrific and devastating attacks” insisted Hastert. He described a new age which requires us to look out over a new horizon. And having looked, Congress has concluded that the appropriate course of action includes a working task force — one with full power to issue subpoenas and convene hearings.
The new subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security will be administered under the auspices of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The reasoning behind this, as Hastert explained, relies on the fact that this committee has had experience dealing with matters which require both secrecy and intelligence operations, including the drug trade.
Terrorism and Homeland Security is not a sole result of the dust settling from the Sept. 11 attack. Since January, when the 107th Congress convened, an unofficial task force, staffed and trained, has been operational. Now with the full backing of Congress, this group will take on the official title and privilege of other subcommittees.
Chairing the Terrorism and Homeland Security subcommittee will be Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). Chambliss is vice chairman of the House Intelligence subcommittee on Intelligence Policy and National Security. He referred to this step as providing a “unique opportunity” by giving this subcommittee greater jurisdiction, recourses and staff. “This will allow us to see deficiencies in our program and root terrorism out,” he declared. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) will be the ranking member on the committee. She claimed relevance in representing a state that manufactures and designs much of the intelligence equipment the United States depends on, including space satellites.
When asked about the threat of biological warfare being carried out in major metropolitan cities, Harman admitted that “making agents is not hard.” However, she expressed her conviction that the distribution of such an agent is in fact difficult. “All commissions and studies conducted on the matter, such as the Bremer study, concluded that the potential for public dissemination is small.” She said she did not want to go into details because they might give ideas to those looking for ways to circumvent these difficulties.
Still, both Harman and Saxby claimed that bio-warfare is a real threat and that complacency is not a solution. “There are a number of countries that don’t like us who have bio-weapons,” said Saxby.
Gephardt left during the question-and-answer period of the press conference when Hastert began discussing his plans for bailing out a failing airline industry, at which point the status quo of House unity returned. Also, Gephardt disagrees with fellow congressmen who feel that an antiterrorism bill should be passed excluding controversial text, though he did not look fondly upon an extended debate.
In one of the concluding comments made, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss (R-Fla.) claimed that “to some it may look like the horse is out of the barn and now we’re locking the door and making a subcommittee. Well, they’re wrong.”
Copyright 2001 Insight Magazine Online