Since 2004, Rep. Pete Hoekstra has been the top Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The Michigan congressman, who is also running for governor of his state, spoke with U.S. News last week on some of today's top issues—including the Guantánamo Bay prison, the Nancy Pelosi scandal, and whether the CIA has ever misled Congress.
You've been an outspoken critic of several of the Obama administration's national security policies, particularly the plan to close the Guant á namo Bay detention facility. But w hat do you think is t he single most helpful thing that the Obama adm inistration has done for national security?
I can't get into a lot of detail. But a lot of the secret activities that the Intelligence Committee has a unique perspective on, they're continuing. These are well-articulated, proven-to-be-successful strategies, and they're continuing. So that is helpful.
Can you be more specific as to what activities you're talking about?
No, I can't. I could, but I'd get into big trouble. If I gave you more specifics, I'd be in bigger trouble than the speaker!
If there's a single decision you could make or policy you could enforce regarding national security to keep Americans safe, what would it be?
It's to stay on offense versus defense. We found that, early after 2001, we had understood the threat—but we had pretty much been on defense. After 9/11, that posture changed. We stayed on offense, and we continue to put pressure on al Qaeda and radical terrorist groups, preventing them the time to reorganize, to plan and train for a series of attacks. We've just kept them off balance. That's one of the reasons we've been able to keep America safe for a number of years, and I think that this president, in a number of ways, has agreed that we'll stay on offense.
How have Obama's decisions shown that he's committed to that strategy?
He's backed off on some of the things [that were problematic], such as with the military tribunals. He laid out somewhat of a framework for closing Guantánamo.
But I think that in eight or nine months, Guantánamo is still going to be open. I don't think he can get done what he wants to get done in eight months. There's still a tremendous amount of work that needs to be carried out to flesh that strategy out and then to actually implement it.
How confident are you in the U.S. prison system's ability to handle prisoners of all types and levels of security threat?
Last time we checked, our maximum security prisons had capacity for [only] one more person. So it's kind of like, OK, where are you going to move whatever number you deem to be appropriate? The other thing is, these are a different category of prisons. The prison in Guantánamo is designed specifically for the kinds of individuals which are very different than the kinds you'll find in our maximum security prisons. Most of these people are on 24-hour suicide watch. They don't mind being martyrs. They have no expectation for rehabilitation. They haven't given up jihad. They're very different than what you'll find in a typical U.S. prison.
The other thing is, right now, they're located in a remote facility where the people guarding them are not known to them and are not known to the other radical jihadist groups. If you put them in a community, the community becomes vulnerable. The prison guards' families become vulnerable, because they are now known to the community. The dynamics are very, very different when you're looking at having them at Gitmo versus having them in Jackson, Mich.
What particular national security issues do you think are being obscured right now by the focus on Guantánamo and Pelosi ?
Number one, the fallout from this. The fallout is that there's a tremendous deterioration of morale within the CIA. Many of them are kind of beside themselves. They're watching out for their own backsides because of the deterrent that someday they may be prosecuted for what they did—for what they thought and what did have the support of the collective political leadership in America. The intelligence community has been at the forefront of keeping America safe. Having an intelligence [community] that is risk averse, that in some cases is lawyering up, is not the kind of intelligence community that we need today to keep America safe. So I'm worried about that.