House Intel chief: Now is the time to 'break' the back of al Qaeda

House Intel chief: Now is the time to 'break' the back of al Qaeda

The House Intelligence Committee chairman said on Wednesday that Congress must not cut — but rather boost — funding for U.S. intelligence agencies in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s killing, insisting now is the time to “break” al Qaeda’s back.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), one of the few lawmakers kept apprised of the covert Navy SEALs mission in the days prior to it, called the killing of bin Laden a victory, but cautioned against becoming complacent or overconfident.   

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U.S. intelligence organizations, he said, are still growing their capabilities.

“Al Qaeda is alive and well; they are hurt; they are damaged. Their inspirational and operational leader has been taken off the battlefield, which is a huge opportunity for us,” Rogers said, speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “This is the time to step on the gas and break their back.”

Rogers said U.S. intelligence agencies — such as the Central Intelligence Agency, the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Security Agency — have made great strides at gathering, analyzing, and sharing intelligence in the decade since 9/11. But he said much work remains.

And while troubled U.S. economy provides a reason for fiscal restraint, Rogers said cutting back intelligence budgets would turn back the progress made so far.

“This is the wrong time to back off on funding the intelligence community, when they are very close to technological breakthroughs that will make our analytical products exponentially better by giving analysts access to far more information,” he said.

“It’s one of the few line items you’ll see this year coming out of the House that will be a slight increase.”

Rogers said the committee was able to trim back some of the agency budgets by finding some areas of duplication and programs that could be consolidated. Those cost-savings, he said, will help pay for increased funding that will go toward technological growth.

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), told The Hill that the fiscal 2011 budget initially proposed to cut funding for counterterrorism analysts, but that he and Rogers successfully argued to restore it.

The panel is currently involved in hard, but good, discussions to identify cost-savings among intelligence agencies for the 2012 budget, he said.

U.S. relations with Pakistan have deteriorated since bin Laden’s killing, as he was found living about 30 miles from the capital of Islamabad in a place that houses Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point as well as numerous retired Pakistani generals. He had been there for at least five years, the administration has said, and intelligence officials and Obama have said bin Laden had to have enjoyed some sort of “support system” within the country.

While Rogers said there is no evidence that senior Pakistan officials knew bin Laden was living there, he noted that a great deal of work needs to be done to improve relations between the two countries.

“I think it’s inherent as our relationship continues that we know who, what, where, and why about Osama bin Laden being in this particular compound for as much as five years,” he said.

“Today, from all of the information I have seen, we can’t conclusively say that somebody senior knew and promoted safe haven. Clearly, there may have been elements that knew and looked the other way. But we can’t say the institutions … knew and looked the other way.”

Ruppersberger said he did not know of any information indicating official Pakistan’s complicity in harboring bin Laden.

But he said, “They were either involved or they were incompetent. I hope they were incompetent, because we need to have a good relationship with them as long as we’re in Afghanistan.”

Ruppersberger called on Pakistan to determine who from within its borders might have been cooperating with bin Laden and then “bring them to justice.”

Conspiracy theories erupted soon after President Obama reported that bin Laden had been killed. One theory suggests that bin Laden is not truly dead.

U.S. officials say they ran DNA tests to verify that the man they killed was indeed bin Laden. They then buried bin Laden at sea within the 24 hours after his death as permitted under Muslim law.
At least one photo was taken of bin Laden after he was killed. Obama decided not to release the photo to the public, however, saying that it could incite further resentment towards the U.S.

Instead, the CIA has offered to show the photo of a dead bin Laden to lawmakers from the House and Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees. Many members have said they will head to CIA headquarters in Virginia over the next several days to view the photographs.

While Rogers was among the first members of Congress to see the photo, both Ruppersberger and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Pete King (R-N.Y.) told The Hill they planned to travel to Langley.

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This post was initially published at 12:37 p.m. and was updated at 7:39 p.m.