To those of us who have advocated an overhaul of the mishmash of congressional oversight of homeland security issues, Wednesday’s brief exchange between Chairman Peter King and Ranking Member Bennie Thompson was strange. There are so many congressional committees that claim the right to jurisdiction over homeland security matters that it is hard to find one that does not claim the right to conduct oversight hearings.
The House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing on the Iran/Hezbollah terrorist threat to the United States. Both Congressmen have been strong advocates in the past for consolidation of oversight into a single authorizing committee, thereby implementing the remaining recommendation of the 9-11 Commission. So when Rep. Thompson cautioned that the committee’s jurisdiction to hold a hearing on whether Iran and Hezbollah posed a terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland, it caused a number of quizzical looks.
Thompson implied that the issue was outside the jurisdiction of the House Homeland Security Committee because it sounded more like an investigation into the actions of a foreign country. Chairman King, as well as the witnesses who testified, answered Thompson’s inquiry by leaving no doubt that Iranian-sponsored agents have operated inside the United States.
This hearing ought to serve as another wake-up call that the terrorist threat inside our country is real and that any complacency is unwarranted. I hope that it does.
And concerning the question of jurisdiction, Chairman King should be commended for bringing this active threat to the public’s attention. Ranking Member Thompson’s “word of caution” about the committee’s jurisdiction over state-sponsored terrorism threats to our homeland should be taken again to the leadership of his party so that they can understand the consequences of their failure to act on the issue when they had the chance two years ago. Speaker Boehner, who says he believes in clarity and transparency in House proceedings, should take this opportunity to clarify the jurisdictional issue once and for all. Had he acted to implement the 9-11 Commission’s recommendation at the start of this Congressional session, Rep. Bennie Thompson’s concern would have been no concern at all.