The deadly terrorist attack in San Bernardino — occurring just weeks after the ISIS-inspired massacre in Paris — is a stark reminder of the critical national-security threats we face. As technology and migration make the world more interconnected, terror is becoming globalized. The conflicts roiling Syria and the wider Middle East are bursting out of their boundaries and threatening the Western world.
We learned on 9/11 about the long reach of our jihadist enemies, and as we saw in Benghazi, al Qaida has outlived the death of Osama bin Laden. Meanwhile, ISIS — an al Qaida spinoff — has adopted an effective, modern sales pitch for its archaic ideology, gaining new recruits worldwide through its online propaganda. At a time when the FBI is conducting ISIS-related investigations in all 50 states, it would be foolish to believe the United States is immune to the terror group’s influence.
To counter these threats and keep Americans safe, it’s crucial to have good intelligence. We need to identify and track terrorists across the globe and disrupt terror plots before they are carried out. This is the responsibility of the U.S. intelligence community, a group of professionals that spans 17 government agencies.
In order to keep the intelligence community fully funded and vested with the authorizations it needs to do its job, the House Intelligence Committee, of which I am a member, drafted the Intelligence Authorization Act (H.R. 4127), which passed the House of Representatives on Dec. 1 by a vote of 364-58.
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This bill will fund an array of intelligence activities in the world’s biggest terror hotspots, including Syria, which has attracted thousands of foreign fighters, some of whom have Western passports and have returned to their home countries with new skills in combat and terrorism; Iraq, where ISIS is rooted in Mosul, Ramadi, and other key cities; and Afghanistan, where resurgent Taliban and al Qaida-affiliated groups are taking over new territory vacated by coalition troops.
Furthermore, as the vast majority of Americans agree, it’s important that we hold the most dangerous terrorists we apprehend in a secure facility where they pose no threat to the American people. That’s why the bill also denies funding for transferring terror detainees from Guantánamo Bay to prisons in the United States and prohibits spending to construct new facilities in the United States to house them.
Even as the intelligence community works hard to neutralize threats from terror groups, the bill ensures that intelligence agencies can keep wary eyes on our nation-state rivals. Under the authoritarian leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia is aggressively expanding its international influence, having annexed Crimea, waged a covert war in eastern Ukraine and launched airstrikes in Syria to prop up Iran’s client regime led by Bashar al-Assad.
Likewise, China is menacing its neighbors with a militarization campaign in the South China Sea, while the Iranian regime continues its role as the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism. All these nations conduct intensive espionage activities against the United States that require the careful attention of our intelligence professionals.
The bill also funds initiatives to counter the growing menace of cyberattacks. The list of cyberattack victims grows longer every day. Corporations have their trade secrets pilfered by hostile foreign powers; the U.S. government is swindled out of sensitive data, most notably in the attack on the Office of Personnel Management, which affected more than 20 million people; and ordinary citizens have their credit-card numbers swiped and their entire identities stolen, creating severe problems that can take years to rectify.
Crucially, the bill also ensures strict congressional oversight of the intelligence community’s activities. In this bill, we authorize and fund the intelligence community’s activities while setting clear guidelines for its operations. It requires that intelligence agencies regularly report to us to ensure compliance with its directives.
The Intelligence Authorization Act was supported by a wide, bipartisan majority in the House because keeping Americans safe is not a partisan issue. That’s why we voted to give the intelligence community the tools it needs to defend us — and that is what this bill does.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican, represents Florida’s 27th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. She is a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and chair of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.