Back from a six-country tour of the Persian Gulf, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) believes U.S. counterterrorism officials are winning the war against Saudi extremist Osama bin Laden.
It's not always easy to understand how, since bin Laden and other Islamic fundamentalists clearly have the U.S. military on edge. Whatever terrorist group attacked the USS Cole last October has succeeded in driving the Navy away from the Yemeni port of Aden. And the circulation of a bin Laden propaganda video in the Middle East last week, coupled with reports of increased activity by individuals linked to bin Laden, put U.S. forces on the highest state of alert throughout the region.
But Shelby, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a recent interview that bin Laden is the one who's on edge.
"He's on the run, and I think he will continue to be on the run, because we are not going to let up," Shelby said.
"I don't think you could say he's got us hunkered down. I believe he's more hunkered down," Shelby said. "He's moved and tried to be one step ahead of our intelligence on where he might be. He knows he's hunted, and he's not exactly strolling down the streets of London or Paris or Berlin, shopping."
After meeting with U.S. intelligence and law enforcement personnel throughout the region, Shelby said that he thinks the CIA has made progress in hiring case officers who look and talk like natives of the region.
"They're doing a lot better -- I've seen it," Shelby said. "But they've got a long way to go."
CIA RECALCITRANCE? Over on the House side, the Government Reform Committee chaired by Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) is not quite so favorably impressed, at last when it comes to the Central Intelligence Agency's record of cooperation with the panel.
The government efficiency subcommittee chaired by Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.) and the national security subcommittee chaired by Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) have scheduled a hearing next month to consider whether the CIA's "refusal to cooperate with congressional inquiries" threatens "effective oversight of federal operations."
Horn's subcommittee became annoyed with the agency when CIA officials refused to provide information about cyber-security precautions being used to protect classified computer networks, Capitol Hill sources said. Shays's panel experienced similar frustration recently when it asked the CIA for information about terrorism, according to one source, and got back information that was essentially available in the newspaper.
"In general, they take the view that the intelligence committees [perform oversight of the agency], and they don't want to, or have to, talk to us," the source said.
One intelligence official responded that during fiscal 2000, the CIA participated in 1,200 briefings of Congress, provided over 2,500 documents to lawmakers and their staffs, and took part in 500 congressional inquiries.
"There is continual and rigorous review of the CIA's activities by the House and Senate intelligence committees, which have been charged with the CIA's oversight for 25 years -- and CIA welcomes such oversight," the official said.
FBI at DOE: Michael J. Waguespack, former deputy assistant director of the FBI's National Security Division, has been appointed director of counterintelligence at the Department of Energy.
The move continues the Clinton administration policy of assigning a senior FBI executive to oversee counterintelligence at DOE. Waguespack replaces Edward J. Curran, who left Energy at the end of last year after rebuilding its counterintelligence program in the wake of an espionage probe involving former Los Alamos physicist Wen Ho Lee.
After Curran's departure, it looked as though the FBI might try to get out from under its commitment under the policy, particularly since Congress created a semi-autonomous agency, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), to oversee security and counterintelligence at the weapons laboratories.
One irony of Congress's focus on foreign spies at the weapons labs is that the current head of counterintelligence at the NNSA, Catherine Eberwein, is a career Capitol Hill staffer who had no actual experience working counterintelligence cases before she got the top job.