Intel on the House Intel Committee and the “Gas Station with Nukes” - Denny Heck at the Tacoma World Affairs Council, August 30, 2018
Last Thursday, three of my OI colleagues and I heard our CD-10 congressman, Denny Heck, speak at a forum organized by the Tacoma World Affairs Council and held at the University of Puget Sound. The topic of the event was “Inside the Intelligence Committee.”
Denny began by stating how his membership on the committee was a fluke, as he was not next in line, but he declined, out of discretion I presume, to tell that story. He is very honored and pleased to be on the committee, but was frank about the emotional adjustment required. Describing how he walks to every meeting through three sealed chambers before entering the meeting room where no cell phones are allowed and how he slept terribly for the first three months due to the horrific nature of some of the intelligence to which he was now privy, he made me a little nervous! He held up a note, now framed, scrawled and passed to him by California Congressman Adam Schiff, which says something to the effect of, “Are you happy now?” The nature of what this committee deals with regularly is grave and frightening.
He named five ongoing security threats to the United States which he strongly believes must not be ignored: Russia, Iran, China and North Korea, and what he referred to as the “plus one”: non-state terrorists. He also included Saudi Arabia as troublesome to the U.S., adding that he disagrees with President Trump’s viewpoint on this Middle Eastern country. He did not mince words when referring to any of them and is unequivocal about the danger they all present to American security.
He focused on Russia, calling it a “gas station with nukes”, in a reference to Russia’s weak economy, which is completely reliant on its oil and gas resources, and its stockpile of nuclear weapons. Russia’s cyber-invasion began several years ago and has been ceaseless. He labels it “Cold War II” and believes we must and we have the means to stop Russia. However, the lack of presidential leadership (Trump is “not competent” for the office) and intransigent congressional Republicans are obstructing making a vigorous defense. That the large tech companies are finally taking action, e.g. Microsoft’s unmasking of Russian hacking attempts in August, is important and necessary assistance.
After speaking for about 20 minutes, Congressman Heck then took questions from the audience, which consisted mostly of seniors and UPS students, most of those political science, government and history majors. Here are a few:
*IMPEACHMENT: When angrily challenged as to why he did not sign a House proposal to begin impeachment proceedings on President Trump, Heck was adamant, but respectful. He believes initiating impeachment now would impede the House from attending to necessary business for the American people. He also believes it is more responsible and fair to wait until the Mueller investigation report has been submitted. He has a lot of respect for Mueller and trusts the investigation process.
*BIPARTISANSHIP: When asked about partisanship on the House Intelligence Committee, he surprised many of us when he stated that the committee does work in a bipartisanship way. The one exception is the Russia problem; that is where the wall goes up and there is no flexibility. He is very frustrated with Congressman Nunes and was unhappy about Nunes’ recent trip to Great Britain to try and obtain intelligence. Actually, he said being unhappy about that is “an understatement.”
*FOREIGN DIPLOMACY: Asked about the departures of so many diplomats from the State Department, he called it a “loss.” He believes in the efficacy of the “soft power” of diplomacy.
*ISRAEL: He was asked about his take on Israel, and responded that he believes in the two-state solution. He is highly critical of Netanyahu. At this point, he does not see much hope for progress.
*TV INTERVIEWS: One student asked why he doesn’t present some of these opinions in his television appearances. He laughed, and said he doesn’t make up the questions! He is invited by various news shows, that is, he doesn’t request appearances, and he responds to the questions they want to ask.
Overall, I found Congressman Heck to be an informative speaker, as well as affable, humorous, and articulate. Clearly, he is very serious about his job and the values and principles that guide him.