The new chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), has shown that he is a man to be reckoned with.
Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. he drew an unusually large crowd of some 200 people, as well as C-SPAN cameras, to a Council on Foreign Relations breakfast meeting; that afternoon before the House Rules Committee he laid the groundwork for debate and passage on Friday of the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill; and Sunday he capped off the week with an appearance on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”
Though a conservative Republican, Rogers pushes bipartisanship when it comes to intelligence, something that has been missing in Congress for almost a decade. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the intelligence panel, publicly acknowledged Rogers’ compromising with committee Democrats and the Obama administration.
One reason may be Rogers’ varied resume, which is also politically impressive for these times. A college Army Reserve Officer Training Corps graduate, he served three years as an Army officer and five years in the FBI as a special agent assigned to Chicago,where he investigated public corruption. In 1994 he returned to Michigan and won a seat in the state Senate, becoming majority floor leader four years later.
In 2000, when Democratic Rep. Debbie Stabenow left her 8th District House seat for the Senate, Rogers won it by only 111 votes. Since then he has won five times with fairly comfortable margins.
But it’s Rogers’ views, expressed during his Council talk and in answering questions, that are worth exploring. They exhibited more thoughtful approaches to intelligence activities and their implications than one is used to hearing from Republicans during the Obama administration.
He opened with a brief history of the intelligence communities’ ups and downs over the past decade: the post-Cold War cutbacks in people and money; the non-sharing of intelligence, particularly between the FBI and CIA; and the shrinking of risk-taking after the mid-1990s cleanout of human intelligence sources with questionable criminal and human rights records. He didn’t mention that it was then-CIA Director John Deutch who pushed penalties on agency case officers and the “cleansing” of recruited agents.
In words that intelligence professionals understand, Rogers said, “Once 9/11 happened, the whole machination of who was responsible and ‘Well who do we blame’ started.” Though he left out that the Bush White House and Congress led the critical chorus, Rogers recognized that still “something pretty remarkable happened” without outside help.
“All of our intelligence agencies realized that they weren’t prepared for what was facing them, and the integration started,” he said.
He’s the first member of Congress, in my mind, who has acknowledged that the first group to take steps to remedy failures leading up to Sept. 11 was the intelligence community itself. That was well before the Sept. 11 Commission and its report and years ahead of the December 2004 passage of the statute that created the office of Director of National Intelligence.
He traced the years of effort using technology and human intelligence, as well as lessons learned by Special Forces teams in raids in Iraq and Afghanistan, that led to killing Osama bin Laden.
He praised President Obama for “taking a look at the information” and authorizing the operation. CIA Director Leon Panetta, he said, did a “phenomenal job” by not only keeping him and other congressional leaders informed of the bin Laden operation, but also for seeking new resources only when needed.
When a questioner raised enhanced interrogation techniques, Rogers responded, “You took somebody off a battlefield, you’re going to talk to them, [but] I don’t think you have to use torture to get information. I’m a former FBI guy.”
He pointed out that interrogations “helped get us smarter about who they [the jihadists] were and how they operated.” Under the new system, he said, “bin Laden is dead.”
In an aside that will enhance his standing at the agency, he called “confusing” the policy “that we’re prosecuting the CIA officers who engaged in interrogations lawfully [during the Bush administration] and celebrate the fact that all of that information may have contributed to the fact we got Osama bin Laden.”
He described the U.S. relationship with Pakistan as “one of the most confusing relationships we have with another country.” He praised Pakistan for going into the tribal areas where their army took thousands of casualties and noted, “they’ve also helped us arrest some 600 al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership in the settled areas.”
But he also pointed out Pakistan’s other side: holding and interrogating CIA contractor Raymond Davis for 42 days; their Frontier Corps being “riddled” with Taliban sympathizers; and their intelligence service having “certain members” with sympathy toward the Taliban, al Qaeda and the Haqqani network, which he characterized as “more like an organized crime family than it is a tribe.”
Despite the need for Washington to have answers about who knew anything about bin Laden’s presence in Abbotabad, he suggested that Pakistan should admit its embarrassment and say, “Let’s move forward. There’s a lot we can do together.”
At one point, summing up his views, Rogers said, “Intelligence is playing a more important role in policymaker decisions than I think I’ve ever seen in my time in Congress or before.”
And it is clear he plans to be a voice right in the middle of it all.