Rockefeller: Iraq Drains Security Funds
Monday, January 22, 2007; 9:54 PM
WASHINGTON -- The new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said he fears the government will not have enough money for homeland security and other domestic priorities because of President Bush's "Iraq adventure."
In an interview on Monday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., criticized almost every major facet of the Bush administration's national security course since Sept. 11, 2001. "The president has in a sense walked away from the war on terror," Rockefeller said.
Because of what he termed a misplaced fascination with Iraq based on faulty intelligence, Rockefeller said al-Qaida and Afghanistan have been neglected. He said he worries that U.S. intelligence on Iran is lacking, and what the nation knows about North Korea is even worse.
And he recently told Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson that domestic programs _ such as education, health care, the environment and homeland security _ are suffering. "That is one of my great, great worries about this Iraq adventure: the shortage of money for homeland security," he said.
Economically, "everything is going to close up and get tougher, and it's all because of the budget and the result of something called Iraq," Rockefeller later added. "I am furious about that."
In the State of the Union address Tuesday night, Bush is expected to reiterate that U.S. involvement in Iraq is part of a unified fight against terror, despite criticism from those who say the Iraqis themselves must do more to fight what now amounts to a civil war. Yet Bush has long said that if the United States doesn't stop the terrorists in Iraq, they will attack at home.
Disagreeing with Rockefeller, Missouri Sen. Kit Bond, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said statements from al-Qaida's leaders prove Iraq is central to the fight against extremism. "Both Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri say that Iraq is the center piece in the war on terror. That is why they want to win it," he said in a separate interview.
Rockefeller plans two hearings this week on the course of intelligence reform. He said the FBI has made progress at protecting the country, but he still worries about the bureau's lack of technology and its ability to transition from an agency whose investigations are aimed at prosecuting criminals in court, to one that investigates to head off acts such as terrorism.
He said there are still missteps akin to those made on al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, in which the FBI pounces too quickly on a visa violation, rather than tracking a suspected terrorist to learn more about his activities.
Despite improvements at the FBI, he said, "I am not satisfied."
Rockefeller said he's also concerned that the Bush administration could be marching toward a military confrontation with Iran.
"Do I think it's possible that the president could get us involved marginally or even more fully in Iran as a way of distracting us from the war on terror, and from Iraq, as a way of getting past the elections in 2008?" Rockefeller asked. "I don't want to believe that. But after what I have been through with him ... yes, I worry about it enormously."
Rockefeller has formed working groups within his committee to focus on difficult national security issues, including Iran, and the 16 U.S. spy agencies are also working on a high-level National Intelligence Estimate on Iran.
Even as he and Bond have agreed on a forward-looking agenda, Rockefeller intends to finish the second phase of the committee's lingering investigation into the spy agencies' faulty prewar assessments of Iraq.
Rockefeller, who voted to authorize the Iraq invasion, said he was "a victim" of bad intelligence.
He said the intelligence analysis is better now, and he believes intelligence analysts are more willing to say when they don't know certain information. Yet he still sees many gaps in understanding _ at the spy agencies and the White House.
The administration, he said, doesn't understand the insurgency because officials have never been in a war like this one. He's also concerned that the turmoil in Iraq will spill over into the region.
Rockefeller said he hasn't met Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but he does "not have a great deal" of faith in him. He said the United States must tell the Iraqis that American troops will leave _ and they must believe it.
Then, the work will be up to the Sunnis and Shiites. "They have to face each other, and they really do have to decide for the first time since 1916 whether they can get along," he said, referring to the origins of the country that is now Iraq.