By Sundar J.M. Brown, ed.
On May 21, 2017, Rep Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) communicated the following to President Donald Trump, via Facebook:
There must be a price for America’s support of Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism. At the very least, we should demand that Saudi Arabia:
1. End their spread of radical Wahhabi Salafist exclusivist ideology through madrassas and mosques around the world, which is undermining moderate Muslims, from Pakistan to Indonesia, to Europe.
2. End their brutal attack on the sovereign country of Yemen, which is resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians.
3. End its arming and support of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Syria and other parts of the world
4. Stop oppression and persecution of dissenters, women and LGBT community
5. Allow Christians, Hindus, Muslims, atheists and other religious minorities to worship or not worship as they please in Saudi Arabia, without being arrested and punished.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump board Air Force One for his first international trip as president, including stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, Brussels and at the G7 summit in Sicily, from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S. May 19, 2017.
Gabbard’s resolute position around her comments is valuable, though there is as much that could be said about their idealistic naïveté as about their formidable decisiveness. Certainly, they are a more developed and purposeful declaration of the ideas initially disclosed in a proposed bill– H.R. 608 which you should read in its entirety for reference– which she sponsored in January of 2017. That document in its present condition, however, remains problematic. While the sentiment behind Gabbard’s proposed H.R. 608 is appreciable, its enforceable terms are woefully insufficient and its suggested terms are an intrusive attempt at Congressional interloping.
As but one example, cf., Sec 2 (2), which merely empowers the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to:
(A)…make initial determinations with respect to whether or not an individual or group is, or has been within the most recent 12 months prior to such determination, affiliated with, associated with, cooperating with, or is an adherent to Al Qaeda, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or ISIL, under paragraph (1) not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act;
(B) shall, in consultation with the appropriate congressional committees, review and make subsequent determinations with respect to groups or individuals under paragraph (1) every 6 months thereafter; and
(C) shall brief the appropriate congressional committees on each determination with respect to a group or individual under subparagraph (A) and the justification for the determination, including by providing—
(i) the geographic location of such group or individual;
(ii) a detailed intelligence assessment of such group or individual;
(iii) a detailed description of the alignment and interaction of such group or individual with Al Qaeda, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or ISIL; and
(iv) a description of the ideological beliefs of such group or individual.
The DNI and Intelligence Community (IC) is already doing all of those things– and far more!– and neither require the passing of a bill to do so. Rather, the passing of this H.R. 608 into law would make parties to its violation legally responsible for not adhering to its stipulations and would demand accountability for any lack of action read as overlooking or having “missed” actionable intelligence. In other words, the IC would be subject to prosecution for doing its job.
The IC needs greater freedom of movement and less Congressional oversight of its day-to-day intelligence collection activities. It only suffers when non-IC-proficient elected officials attempt to insert themselves into the functional IC machinery, or even when they insert themselves into a dysfunctional IC machine. Their presence does not restore, but only further degrades the active dysfunctionality. The penultimate form of this is to draft legislation on collection/briefing and subsequent justification for lack of collection/briefing to which the IC then becomes beholden.
In either event, the entire proposal undermines the very spirit in which the IC is already acting to combat terrorism by suggesting that converting a minuscule range of already present IC work into formal legislation would somehow decrease international terrorist activity.
It will not.
It will, rather, tend to increase partisanship because the bill will be viewed as the Democrat’s critique of what a Republican-driven IC is lacking. That very biased partisanship, disguised as bi-partisanship, is precisely the type of misplaced energy that could be dedicated to the fight against terrorism, for which the U.S. tends to possess the best and most complete tool-sets and skill-sets the world over.
The timelines suggested in H.R. 608–a 12 month window of prior activity and reevaluation every 6 months– are far too short in the former and far too long in the latter.
The proposed bill, by virtue of conspicuous absence, also underestimates the utterly complex and clandestine layering/laundering made available through the deceptively simple Hawala/Hewala/Hundi system. It takes no account of contemporary digital currencies or alternative forms of financing which could be, and are being used, to provide “covered assistance” to designated terrorist organizations, even with the use of U.S. federal funds (much of which are passed through Islamic charities, often “the ultimate cover).
Neither does the document provide even a basic illustration or assessment of how/when/where such “covered assistance” is being enacted with U.S. federal funding; nor does it offer compelling evidence that such “covered assistance” is even transpiring. This is not to suggest that it is not, but, a “whereas” paragraph would serve as the helpful, if not necessary justification for its drafting.
Furthermore, the bill provides absolutely zero actionable enforcement of note. It does not offer consequences for the violation of its standards, nor does its language demonstrate how adhering to its stipulations would better disrupt terrorist financing than the methods the IC currently has in place. It merely obligates the DIC to report on areas/people/places/activities on which it is already reporting, but makes the collection yields, and by extension the processes, methods and sources for gathering them, governable by non-IC personnel. That position is a recipe for intelligence disasters which only increase terrorist threats.
Ostensibly, H.R. 608 would seek to eliminate U.S. support for and necessarily contravene trade relationships with any number of Middle Eastern nations/individuals, most notably Saudi Arabia, a polity which is read by many– and rightly so– as a a global sponsor of terrorism, thanks especially to the House of Saud being historically beholden to the Wahabi clerics saturating its landscape. This is, perhaps, the bill’s sole redeeming quality as it presently stands.
Let us applaud the spirit in which H.R. 608 is being proposed. But, let us also note that the proposed bill is sorely incomplete, understated, under-informed, and therefore far more of a burden to those it means to serve, which ironically positions it as an advantage to those it means to combat. It has miles to go in the form of threshing out and nuancing its language before it is worth spending the time, money, lobbying and political machinations necessary for it to pass. It is, however, a worthwhile starting point and, despite the fact that it will die early in Congress (due mostly to the earlier-referenced partisanship), we might retain some hope that it catalyzes similar attempts to disengage, and perhaps even dismantle, the long-standing trade relationships between the U.S. and nefarious, twisted, oppressive nations like Saudi Arabia (and its rulers) who are, in fact, consistent and willing drivers of global jihad.