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.
And then, clearly, I think we should have a bipartisan strategy for national security. Right now, that doesn't exist. There is a lot of substance, but there are also some politics going on.
So have you found a new era of bipartisanship with Obama's election?
No. It's still very much a partisan atmosphere. The president, on national security, has not reached out. He announced his new strategy for Gitmo this week. There was never any discussion with Congress on that. In fact, we were scheduled to have a briefing this week. It was canceled. At the same time, some are reporting that the president found more than enough time to meet with human rights groups to talk about the Gitmo strategy that he unveiled today. But he never shared it with Congress before the speech this morning.
The Pelosi scandal seems to have renewed the movement for a truth commission. What's your stance?
We ought to be able to do this [investigation] within our current established institutions. Congress ought to be able to deal with this.
So you don't support a separate commission?
Not at this point, no.
You've called Pelosi's claims that the CIA misled her "outrageous accusations." But in November of last year, after a report came out that said the CIA ran an air drug interception program that downed several private planes—including a n attack on a missionary plan e in Peru in 2001 that killed American Veronica B owers and her 7-month-old daughter — you said, "[The CIA] told us this was the first time that anything happened out of the ordinary, that all guidelines in the past had been meticulously followed, and that was a lie."
So you've said before yourself that the CIA has misled Congress.
Why , then, is Pelosi's claim that the CIA misled her "outrageous"?
Because when I made the claim, guess what: I had an IG report. I was quoting from—not quoting from literally—but from the inspector general's report from the CIA. Their own watchdog organization said they had lied and misled Congress. Look, the difference now with Speaker Pelosi is she has presented no evidence at all that there has been a pattern of deceit over a period of seven years. So I think that's the fundamental difference. The CIA IG had issued the report, and we followed up on it. We verified it; we wanted to hold the CIA accountable. She's accused them of lying, and she's done nothing. She hasn't even presented any facts, and she has done nothing to try to hold the CIA accountable for what she and I both believe would be a very, very serious charge, that they're lying. So that's the difference.
It sounds like you don't think that her belief that the CIA had misled Congress is outrageous. It's that she is doing it without presenting clear evidence.
Yeah. You would like to know exactly what has led her to make that charge, that over a period of years, step by step, they lied to her.
What about the notes of the briefing?
I would welcome their release as well as other documents from the CIA. That would help to clarify.