By SUZANNE GAMBOA
The Associated Press
Saturday, December 2, 2006; 8:54 AM
WASHINGTON -- Silvestre Reyes was unable to speak English until he was 6 years old. Now the Texas congressman must master the lingo of the nation's spy agencies and the politics of the war in Iraq.
The son of West Texas cotton farmers, Reyes was held back in school along with other Mexican-American children because of limited English. Both Reyes' parents were born in the U.S. His father was a successful farmer and both parents were avid readers who instilled a love for reading in him.
"I always look back and am amused," Reyes said, recalling his school days. "I was tagged as (one day) being a chicken farmer (and) a high school counselor said I was good with my hands and could be a welder."
Instead, he became a combat soldier, a Border Patrol agent and chief and then was elected to Congress. This week, he added one more achievement: chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Reyes takes over the key post next year, becoming the first Hispanic to serve in the job.
He'll head the panel, in part, because Democrats capitalized at the ballot box on the dissatisfaction among American voters with the war in Iraq and what some believe was faulty and politically manipulated intelligence that led the nation into war.
"We're going to do the oversight with the administration about how do we proceed and what are the options. How does intelligence play into that and how will we be able to operationally support what we are trying to accomplish getting out of Iraq," Reyes said about his agenda as chairman.
Reyes voted against the Iraq war resolution and has supported setting a timetable for withdrawal. He said he voted against the war because he thought intelligence was being "cherry picked" and "manipulated" to make the case for war. He supports fighting the war on terror, but warns against relinquishing individual rights.
He has been an outspoken critic of the administration's warrantless domestic wiretapping program. But he said Friday he will not pledge to bring American troops home right away.
A moderate Democrat, Reyes often takes a pro-defense stand. He also serves on the House Armed Services Committee and has served on the Veterans Affairs Committee.
He has cast votes against partial-birth abortion and human cloning, but also voted against Bush's tax cuts and rejects deployment of military personnel to the border.
Reyes has been a longtime advocate of the Border Patrol, pressing for more resources for the agency since he first entered Congress. He is credited with initiating "Operation Hold The Line" on the Texas-Mexico border, which stationed agents to stop illegal entry. The technique is now used all along the border.
He said his experience as a Border Patrol agent who had to rely on intelligence to do his job helps qualify him for the job as chairman.
Much of the attention he has received over the years has been for his expertise on border issues, U.S.-Mexico relations and as one of the veteran Hispanics in Congress.
But Reyes has also come to be known as a defense expert. His district is home to Fort Bliss, the home of the Army maintenance unit ambushed in Iraq. Jessica Lynch was captured and Pfc. Lori Piestewa was killed in that attack.
Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., noted that Reyes has been a champion of Aegis and the Theater High-Altitude Air Defense or THAAD, types of missile defense technology and said he has "consistently promoted realistic testing for our missile defense systems."
"Silver has also been diligent in his oversight of satellite programs, ensuring that valuable intelligence information remains available to our war fighters," Skelton said in a news release.
The oldest of 10 children, Reyes' father dropped out of school in the 6th grade and his mother was a high school graduate. Reyes has been married for 38 years and has three grown children and three grandchildren.
"He is an individual that knows how to treat people, knows how to work in a bipartisan way," said fellow Texas Democrat Rep. Solomon Ortiz, a close friend of Reyes.'
"He knows what intelligence is all about. And he's very conscientious. I'm pretty sure any information he gets, he's going to be sure he verifies that information so we don't make any mistakes. He's aggressive enough to pursue any investigation, any information that might be out there."
On the Net:
Rep. Silvestre Reyes: http://www.house.gov/reyes
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence: http://intelligence.house.gov/