Monday, December 11, 2006
Incoming House intelligence chief botches easy intel quiz
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas, who incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tapped to head the Intelligence Committee when the Democrats take over in January, failed a quiz of basic questions about al Qaeda and Hezbollah, two of the key terrorist organizations the intelligence community has focused on since the September 11, 2001 attacks.
When asked by CQ National Security Editor Jeff Stein whether al Qaeda is one or the other of the two major branches of Islam -- Sunni or Shiite -- Reyes answered "they are probably both," then ventured "Predominantly -- probably Shiite."
That is wrong. Al Qaeda was founded by Osama bin Laden as a Sunni organization and views Shiites as heretics.
Reyes could also not answer questions put by Stein about Hezbollah, a Shiite group on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations that is based in Southern Lebanon.
Stein's column about Reyes' answers was published on CQ's Web site Friday evening.
In an interview with CNN, Stein said he was "amazed" by Reyes' lack of what he considers basic information about two of the major terrorists organizations.
"If you're the baseball commissioner and you don't know the difference between the Yankees and the Red Sox, you don't know baseball," Stein said. "You're not going to have the respect of the people you work with."
While Stein said Reyes is "not a stupid guy," his lack of knowledge said it could hamper Reyes' ability to provide effective oversight of the intelligence community, Stein believes.
"If you don't have the basics, how do you effectively question the administration?" he asked. "You don't know who is on first."
Stein said Reyes is not the only member of the House Intelligence Committee that he has interviewed that lacked what he considered basic knowledge about terrorist organizations.
"It kind of disgusts you, because these guys are supposed to be tending your knitting," Stein said. "Most people are rightfully appalled."
Pelosi picked Reyes over fellow Californian Rep. Jane Harman, who had been the Intelligence Committee's ranking member, and Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida, who had been impeached as a federal judge after being accused of taking a bribe.
Full story from CQ
Rep. Silvestre Reyes, the Texas Democrat tapped to head the House Intelligence Committee, said Monday that despite failing to answer basic questions about al Qaeda's makeup, he is aware of the threat the terrorist group poses.
"The CQ interview covered a wide range of topics other than the selected points published in the story," Reyes said in a statement to CNN. "As a Member of the Intelligence Committee since before 9/11, I'm acutely aware of al Qaeda's desire to harm Americans. The Intelligence Committee will keep its eye on the ball, and focus on the pressing security and intelligence issues facing us."
Reyes drew heat after failing to answer questions about al Qaeda and Hezbollah posed by the Congressional Quarterly
--CNN's Scott Anderson and Brian Todd
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