Politics & Policy

Leading to Disaster

For John Kerry, gutting intel is "common sense."

In the 1990s, John Kerry served eight years on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Despite such incidents as the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the bombing of the Khobar Towers in 1996, Kerry proposed intelligence cuts throughout the 1990s and even asked his colleagues in 1997, “Now that [the Cold War] struggle is over, why is it that our vast intelligence apparatus continues to grow?”

Fortunately, many of his liberal-Democratic colleagues understood that there were other threats, such as terrorism, that still abounded; it was rare for them even to agree with his proposed slashing of the intelligence budget.

In September 1995, two years after the first World Trade Center attack, Senator Kerry proposed cutting $1.5 billion from the intelligence budget. Kerry included the cuts in a laundry list of government expenditures that Kerry described as “pointless, wasteful, antiquated, or just plain silly.” Kerry heralded these cuts as part of “one senator’s common sense effort” and claimed the proposed cuts were part of a “bipartisan, common sense direction,” which he said was “in our best interest.”

How many other senators followed Kerry’s bipartisan “common sense direction” in 1995? Not a one. Not California’s Barbara Boxer or Michigan’s Carl Levin, who have never seen a defense cut they didn’t relish. Not even Kerry’s Massachusetts liberal colleague Ted Kennedy. Some leader!

To further demonstrate how ill-equipped Kerry is to handle intelligence matters: He likened these cuts to trimming “the mink subsidy.” Mink subsidies and intel funding–all in the same pot, in the John Kerry worldview. No doubt his friends in France and at PETA agree.

Kerry’s 1995 proposal was no aberration. In 1994 Kerry twice pushed to cut $1 billion from the budgets of the National Foreign Intelligence Program and from Tactical Intelligence, and advocated freezing their budgets. When the bill got stuck in committee, Kerry proposed it as an amendment to another bill. His amendment was defeated by a vote of 75-20.

What was the response from some of the more mainstream Democrats to Kerry’s 1994 cuts? Arizona senator Dennis DeConcini, chairman of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, warned: “I continue to believe today that last year’s intelligence cut was as deep as the intelligence community can withstand during its post-Cold War transition.” DeConcini explained that intelligence resources had already been reduced by more than 13 percent compared with 1989 appropriations. DeConcini also explained that the freeze, in addition to the $1 billion cut, would really mean an additional $5 billion in cuts over five years.

Senator DeConcini, apparently not oblivious to the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, observed, “We no longer seem immune from acts of terrorism in the United States.” He warned that it made “no sense for us to close our eyes and ears to developments around the world which could ultimately save U.S. lives and resources.” DeConcini also explained that the Intelligence Committee, on which Kerry served at the time, had taken a “long hard look at what we are spending on intelligence.” Perhaps Kerry hadn’t looked as long and hard as his more serious-minded Democratic colleagues?

One of them, Hawaii senator Daniel Inouye, warned that Kerry’s cuts would “severely hamper the intelligence community’s ability to provide decision makers and policymakers with information on matters of vital concern to this country.” Inouye reminded his colleagues of the threats of nuclear proliferation by North Korea, as well as terrorist threats against American citizens and property, and pointed out that the bill already provided for less than had been requested by the Clinton administration. Of the Kerry amendment, Inouye stated, “This amendment would take away their protection [American troops overseas] and I am not prepared to do that…. As long as we are confronted with madmen, terrorists and countries with strained agendas, I think it would be prudent on the part of the United States to maintain a ready force of men and women who are willing to stand in harm’s way.”

Finally, during the eight years Kerry served on the Intelligence Committee, he proposed budget cuts at least three times. So how many times during his eight-year tenure on the Intelligence Committee did he propose legislation to increase funding for human intelligence or to reform the intelligence community? You guessed it: zilch, zero. That about sums up John Kerry’s “leadership” on intelligence and national-security matters.

When one considers that, in addition to this abysmal record, John Kerry has voted against funding the MX missile, the Patriot missile, the Apache helicopter, the Blackhawk helicopter, the B-1 Bomber, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and just about every significant weapons system used in the war on terrorism, it’s clear John Kerry’s record won’t survive its deserved, and impending, close-up.

Barbara Comstock is a former Department of Justice spokeswoman and currently a principal with Blank Rome Government Relations.

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