Rogers: ‘Race is on’ to keep Gadhafi weapons stocks from al Qaeda

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Special Committee on Intelligence, called on the United States to take a more active role in ensuring that Moammar Gadhafi’s stockpiles of weapons did not fall into the hands of terrorist organizations.

“I would like us to be more involved,” said Rogers, who appeared Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“And I’m not talking about boots on the ground or big military,” Rogers said. “We need to use our special capabilities that really only the United States has to secure, account for those weapons and render them safe. And we need to do it now.

“I will tell you al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations identified by the State Department are very interested in getting their hands on those missile systems, other weapons, even the chemical stockpile precursors. All of that we know is happening. The race is on. This is a race we should win. We shouldn’t debate if we need to have special capabilities on the ground there to take care of that particular problem.”

Lieberman said the United States is working closely with opposition forces to ensure the safety and security of Gadhafi’s weapon stockpiles.

“We’re working with them to try to secure both the mustard gas and the munitions that I worry would fall otherwise in the hand of enemies of the U.S., including terrorists,” Lieberman said.

Rogers and Lieberman stressed that the next month was critical for the post-Gadhafi-regime transition government. Rogers said it was important the new Libyan government focused on “establishment of governance and trying to avoid an insurgency.”

Rogers suggested that Libya’s new leaders need to be “engaged in government development so they can take control and show the Libyan people that the rebels can govern.”

Rogers also said the transition government would need to work with some elements from the former regime. It needed to avoid “the same kind of mistakes that were made in Iraq about dismissing all of their military and their intelligence apparatus. They need to co-opt some of that in the next few weeks,” he cautioned.

The lawmakers also defended the U.S. government’s progress in fighting terrorism, saying Americans were “safer” a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I believe we are safer, but there are still plenty of folks that get up every single morning with the sole intention of planning, conducting, financing an operation against the United States of America,” Rogers said.

Lieberman agreed that while there was still work to do, the government had taken major steps since 9/11 to keep the country safer.

“I think if you look back, the American people and the American government have a lot to feel proud about,” Lieberman said. “We really transformed ourselves to meet the new threat of Islamist terrorism. 

“I don’t think anybody on September 12, 2001, would have predicted in the following 10 years there would not be another major terrorist attack on the homeland, and there has not been. We’re still in a war … tragically it’s going to go on for a while, but we are a lot safer.”

The lawmakers also responded to criticism that a decade after 9/11 the country still lacks a nationwide broadband network for first responders.

“The truth is, interoperability of communications, the ability of first responders to talk to each other in a crisis are much better than they were 10 years ago” Lieberman said. “We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars of federal grants to states and localities making that possible.”

He added that he expects Congress to pass a bill soon to allocate the “D-block” spectrum for this purpose.

“What they don’t have, and this is … legislation that I and others are co-sponsoring … and it ought to pass in this Congress, is enough of the spectrum,” he said. “We want to give them the so-called ‘D-block’ spectrum, so that they can have the same ability to transmit video, maps, etc., that most teenagers have on their cellphones.”

A report released Wednesday on the status of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations prompted renewed calls for Congress to allocate the “D-block” spectrum to create an interoperable public safety network.

“State of the Union” host Candy Crowley also asked the lawmakers about problems with cellphone service in the aftermath of the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Central Virginia two weeks ago.

“The burden that we put on those systems today is exponentially larger than it even was 10 years ago,” Rogers admitted. “So we are struggling to keep up with that.”

Rogers also addressed the current state of al Qaeda, saying the organization was “down but not out.”

“They are down. We have hurt them, with the number two [Atiyah Abd al-Rahman] just getting taken out just recently,” he said. “It had a tremendous impact.”