Profile: Silvestre Reyes
Silvestre Reyes was a participant or observer in the following events:
Silvestre Reyes. [Source: Foreign Policy (.com)]Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), slated to become the new speaker of the House when the Democrats take over leadership of the House in January 2007, names Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Reyes, a former soldier and Border Patrol chief before being elected to Congress, is named to the chairmanship over two other Intelligence Committee Democrats, Jane Harman (D-CA) and Alcee Hastings (D-FL), both of whom outrank him on the committee. Generally an advocate for the military, Reyes supports withdrawing from Iraq, and voted against the original war resolution. He has accused the Bush administration of using “cherry-picked” and “manipulated” intelligence to justify invading Iraq. He is also a strong critic of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). [Washington Post, 12/2/2006] Evidence will later show that Harman may have improperly accepted assistance from an Israeli agent, who promised to lobby Pelosi on Harman’s behalf for the chairmanship (see October 2005 and April 19, 2009).
Silvestre Reyes. [Source: US House of Representatives]In response to a question asked at a briefing, CIA Director Michael Hayden makes an “offhand comment” to the House Intelligence Committee indicating that tapes the CIA has made of detainee interrogations have been destroyed (see Spring-Late 2002). Although some committee members have been aware of the tapes’ existence since 2003 (see February 2003), this is apparently the first time they learn of their destruction, which occurred over year ago (see November 2005). The destruction is again “briefly mentioned” in a letter to a member of the committee in mid-April. Leading committee members Silvestre Reyes and Peter Hoekstra will later write to Hayden, “We do not consider this to be sufficient notification. Moreover, these brief mentions were certainly not contemporaneous with the decision to destroy the videotapes.” [US Congress, 12/7/2007] The Senate Intelligence Committee is apparently not informed until later (see December 7, 2007).
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell asks Congress to allow the government to monitor overseas phone calls without warrants. In a letter to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), McConnell says that Congress must “act immediately” to change the law, which he says now requires burdensome court orders that hinder the administration’s efforts to combat terrorism. McConnell is advocating a raft of changes in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) proposed by the Bush administration; Congress is studying the law pending any possible amendments. McConnell writes that “clarifications are urgently needed” in the law to enable the use of “our capabilities to collect foreign intelligence about foreign targets overseas without requirements imposed by an out-of-date FISA statute,” and says he has “deep concern[s]” about the nation’s ability to counter terrorist threats. At issue are overseas phone calls between two international sources, but which travel through US-based terminals or switches. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the ranking Republican on the committee, is also pushing for the changes in FISA, calling the proposals “simple fix[es]” that would expedite the US’s ability to monitor terrorist organizations without adversely affecting US civil liberties. But fellow committee member John Tierney (D-MI) disagrees, saying that FISA “already allows for foreign-to-foreign communications to be intercepted” but that the administration “has chosen to say that it wants a warrant nonetheless.” [Washington Post, 7/28/2007]
Eleven US veterans who served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan demand that Congress open hearings on the pro-war rhetoric of the Bush administration in light of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that concluded Iran stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). The veterans, leaders and members of the antiwar group VoteVets, write a letter to the chairmen of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Silvestre Reyes (D-TX). The letter reads in part, “[W]e are extremely concerned about news that has emerged over the past few days regarding the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, what it says, and when the President knew about it. We believe the mass confusion over when the President knew of the report’s findings, and whether he continued to ramp up Iran war rhetoric anyway, warrants an immediate investigation by your committees. Our concern, primarily, is that such rhetoric only serves to stoke hostility towards our troops currently in Iraq, and that, if military action against Iran is launched, it has serious repercussions on the lives of our troops and our very military.… Despite the White House having [the information behind the NIE] administration officials continued to use rhetoric designed to sell the American public on the idea of taking military action against Iran.” The veterans note that President Bush apparently lied about when he became aware of the intelligence behind the NIE (see December 3-4, 2007). The veterans ask that the two committees find out the truth behind what Bush knew and when he knew it, and if Bush was aware that the rhetoric from himself and his officials could increase the danger faced by US troops in Iraq. “These questions must be examined and a determination must be made as to why comments such as the ones above were made. If not for legitimate security reasons, did the administration put our troops at increased risk for domestic political reasons?” [VetVoice, 12/4/2007]
Several inquiries are launched into the destruction by the CIA of videotapes showing detainee interrogations.
The Justice Department begins a preliminary inquiry. It writes to the CIA’s top lawyer, John Rizzo, noting he has undertaken to ensure all currently existing records are preserved. [Associated Press, 12/8/2007]
The CIA’s Inspector General begins an inquiry. One of the questions it will address is whether the destruction was obstruction of justice. [Associated Press, 12/11/2007] However, some Democratic lawmakers raise questions about the propriety of inquiries run by the Justice Department, as its lawyers offered advice about the tapes, and the CIA Inspector General, who reviewed the tapes before they were destroyed. [Washington Post, 12/15/2007]
The House Intelligence Committee starts an inquiry. Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes says it is planning a “broad review” of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, but adds, “I’m not looking for scapegoats.” [International Herald Tribune, 12/8/2007] The committee requests all cables, memos and e-mails related to the videotapes, as well as legal advice given to CIA officials before the tapes were destroyed. [New York Times, 12/15/2007]
The Senate Intelligence Committee also begins an inquiry. [FindLaw, 12/14/2007]
The House Judiciary Committee sends letters to CIA Director Michael Hayden and Attorney General Michael Mukasey asking whether the Justice Department provided the CIA with legal advice. [Associated Press, 12/7/2007]
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform investigates whether the Federal Records Act has been violated. [FindLaw, 12/14/2007]
There is a debate in a court case involving 11 Guantanamo detainees about whether the tapes were subject to a preservation order issued by the judge in that case (see December 14, 2007).
Following appearances before the Senate and then House Intelligence Committees, CIA Director Michael Hayden takes a different line than the previous week over the CIA’s destruction of videotapes showing detainee interrogations. When the scandal first broke, he had said: “The leaders of our oversight committees in Congress were informed of the videos years ago and of the Agency’s intention to dispose of the material. Our oversight committees also have been told that the videos were, in fact, destroyed.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 12/6/2007] However, the committees protested (see December 7, 2007) and, after his closed-door meeting with the House committee on December 12, he says, “particularly at the time of the destruction we could have done an awful lot better at keeping the committee alerted and informed.” [Fox News, 12/13/2007] His private explanation to the Senate committee leaves many questions unanswered, but chairman Jay Rockefeller calls it “a useful and not yet complete hearing.” [Associated Press, 12/11/2007] House committee chairman Silvestre Reyes, who expresses the committee’s “frustration” at not being kept informed about the tapes, calls the meeting “the first step in what we feel is going to be a long-term investigation,” and says some parts of Hayden’s briefing are “stunning.” [Fox News, 12/13/2007] Hayden points out to both committees that he arrived at the CIA after the tapes had been destroyed, so “Other people in the agency know about this far better than I.” [Associated Press, 12/11/2007]
Kenneth Wainstein. [Source: White House]The Justice Department attempts to delay probes by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees into the destruction of CIA tapes showing detainee interrogations, saying the administration cannot provide the witnesses or documents the committees want, as this may jeopardize its own investigations. Kenneth Wainstein, assistant attorney general for national security, and CIA Inspector General John Helgerson write to congressional intelligence committee leaders saying, “We fully appreciate the committee’s oversight interest in this matter, but want to advise you of concerns that actions responsive to your request would represent significant risk to our preliminary inquiry.” However, Wainstein and Helgerson are unable to say when they will have results. Attorney General Michael Mukasey also rejects a request for details about the Justice Department-CIA inquiry (see December 14, 2007). [Washington Post, 12/15/2007; New York Times, 12/15/2007] House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) and Vice Chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) threaten to issue subpoenas and respond in a joint statement: “We are stunned that the Justice Department would move to block our investigation… Parallel investigations occur all of the time, and there is no basis upon which the Attorney General can stand in the way of our work.” [Washington Post, 12/15/2007] They add: “It’s clear that there’s more to this story than we have been told, and it is unfortunate that we are being prevented from learning the facts. The executive branch can’t be trusted to oversee itself.” [Associated Press, 12/15/2007] The New York Times comments, “The inquiry by the House committee had been shaping up as the most aggressive investigation into the destruction of the tapes.” The intelligence committee inquiries are similar to those of the Justice Department and CIA Inspector General, but also aim to determine whether anyone in the executive branch had sought to have the tapes destroyed to eliminate possible evidence that CIA officers had used banned interrogation techniques. [New York Times, 12/15/2007] A CIA spokesman says, “Director Hayden has said the Agency will cooperate fully with both the preliminary inquiry conducted by [Justice Department] and CIA’s Office of Inspector General, and with the Congress. That has been, and certainly still is, the case.” [Washington Post, 12/15/2007] However, the CIA fails to provide documents the House committee has requested. [New York Times, 12/15/2007] Commentator Scott Horton will call this “a conscious decision to shield criminal conduct from exposure before the watchdog appointed by the Constitution: Congress.” [Harpers, 12/15/2007]
The Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) expires today. Congress has refused to pass a reauthorization of the legislation that contains a provision to grant retroactive immunity to US telecommunications firms to protect them from lawsuits arising from their previous cooperation with government eavesdroppers (see February 5, 2006). President Bush has warned for days that by refusing to reauthorize the bill, Congress is leaving the US “more in danger of attack.” The surveillance elements of the PAA will continue in force for another year after its passage even as the PAA itself expires, so the government’s capability to use electronic surveillance against suspected terrorists and citizens alike continues unabated through August 2008.
Republican Reaction - House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) warns, “This is a grave problem, and the Democrat leaders ought to be held accountable for their inaction.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says, “The companies have been waiting for six months for retroactive liability” protection. “They are under pressure from their directors, pressure from their shareholders, and you’re jeopardizing the entire existence of the company by continuing to do this.”
Democratic Reaction - But House Democrats seem to be in no mood to give in to Bush’s rhetoric. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says Bush is “misrepresenting the facts on our nation’s electronic-surveillance capabilities.” “There is no risk the program will go dark,” says Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Many Democrats accuse the administration of putting the interests of telecom firms over national security—accusations that intensify after Bush’s Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, admitted that the real issue behind the reauthorization is the immunity for telecoms (see February 15-17, 2008). Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says that the entire argument is “nothing more than a scare tactic designed to avoid legal and political accountability and keep Americans in the dark about the administration’s massive lawbreaking.” House member Tim Walz (D-MN) says, “Coming from a military background, I sure don’t downplay that there are threats out there, but the president’s demagoguery on this is the equivalent of the boy crying wolf.” And Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), the head of the House Democratic Caucus, says bluntly: “This is not about protecting Americans. The president just wants to protect American telephone companies.”
Previous Depiction - When the law was signed into effect August 5, 2007, it was portrayed by the White House as “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate needs of the intelligence community to protect the country.” Now it is being portrayed by Bush officials as the cornerstone of the nation’s terrorist-surveillance program. The issue is sure to resurface when Congress returns from a week-long break in late February. [Associated Press, 2/14/2008; Washington Post, 2/16/2008]
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Attorney General Michael Mukasey pen a letter to Silvestre Reyes (D-TX, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, claiming that because the Democratically led Congress has allowed the Protect America Act (PAA) to expire (see February 16, 2008), the government is losing critically needed intelligence on potential terrorist threats. McConnell and Mukasey do not include any evidence of the claim in their letter. In the six days since the PAA expired, the two write, some of the government’s “partners” in intelligence operations—US telecommunications firms—have “reduced [their] cooperation” in the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. The two officials do not name which firms they say have cut back on their cooperation. The telecom firms are more reluctant to continue their cooperation with the government because they do not have retroactive legal immunity from civil and criminal charges for their cooperation in the past. The Bush administration and Congressional Republicans allowed the PAA to expire rather than approve an extension of the law that did not include an immunity clause (see February 23, 2008). In their letter, McConnell and Mukasey claim that since the Protect America Act lapsed, telecom firms “have delayed or refused compliance with our requests to initiate new surveillances of terrorist and other foreign intelligence targets under existing directives issued pursuant to the Protect America Act.” They add, “Although most partners intend to cooperate for the time being, they have expressed deep misgivings about doing so in light of the uncertainty and have indicated that they may well cease to cooperate if the uncertainty persists.” McConnell and Mukasey write that if Congress does not extend immunity to the telecom firms, the firms will continue to be reluctant to cooperate with the surveillance program: “This uncertainty may well continue to cause us to miss information that we otherwise would be collecting.” A day later, the two retract their claim (see February 23, 2008). Reyes and other Democrats have accused the administration of exaggerating the claims of threats to national security because of their refusal to grant the telecoms immunity; some have accused the administration of “fearmongering” and employing “scare tactics.” [Newsweek, 2/22/2008; Newsweek, 2/22/2008; Politico, 2/22/2008]
Democrats Take 'Strong Offense' to Charges - In a joint statement, Reyes, Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), and other Democrats respond to McConnell and Mukasey’s letter: “Further politicizing the debate, the administration today announced that they believe there have been gaps in security since the Protect America Act expired. They cannot have it both ways; if it is true that the expiration of the PAA has caused gaps in intelligence, then it was irresponsible for the president and congressional Republicans to openly oppose an extension of the law. Accordingly, they should join Democrats in extending it until we can resolve our differences.” [Newsweek, 2/22/2008] Reyes says: “President Bush has just been spoiled dealing with the Republican-controlled Congress before. I take strong offense at the president’s comments that somehow we’re less safe because the Protect America Act expired.” [Politico, 2/22/2008]
Republicans Refuse to Discuss Legislation - Democratic staffers in the House and Senate Intelligence Committees meet today to discuss how to iron out difference between the two chambers’ version of the proposed extension of the PAA; Republican aides refuse to attend. [Associated Press, 2/23/2008] Democrats also charge that, contrary to administration claims of wanting to work with Congress to pass an acceptable update to the law, the White House has refused to supply lawmakers with documents they have requested pertaining to the extension. [Politico, 2/22/2008]
Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell write to Silvestre Reyes, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, about their desire to see the Protect America Act renewed. In the letter, they mention the failure to exploit NSA intercepts of calls between the 9/11 hijackers in the US and al-Qaeda’s main global communications hub, which apparently had the potential to thwart the 9/11 plot (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). They write: “[O]ne of the September 11th hijackers communicated with a known overseas terrorist facility while he was living in the United States. Because that collection was conducted under Executive Order 12333, the intelligence community could not identify the domestic end of the communication prior to September 11, 2001, when it could have stopped that attack.” [US Department of Justice and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 2/28/2008 ] Executive Order 12333 became law in 1981 and governed general activities by the US intelligence community. [US President, 12/4/1981] The order did allow the NSA to disseminate information about US persons to law enforcement officials in the event of an impending terrorist act. [US Congress: House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, 4/12/2000] The letter does not give more detailed reasons why Mukasey and McConnell think the NSA could not have traced the calls and informed the FBI of the two hijackers’ presence in the US (see (Spring 2000)). [US Department of Justice and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 2/28/2008 ] Similar incorrect statements have been made by numerous intelligence officials since December 2005, when the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program was revealed (see December 17, 2005).
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