Congressman Chris Stewart spent a dozen years in the Air Force, has written a dozen books including a couple of New York Times’ best-sellers, and is now on the House Permanent Select Committee On Intelligence. He joined me this morning:
HH: I am joined by Congressman Chris Stewart, Republican from Utah. He is the junior Republican member on the House Select Committee on Intelligence. You know him, perhaps, as a bestselling author of more than a dozen books, and as an Air Force alum of 14 years serving in the nation’s uniform. Congressman Stewart, welcome to the program, good to have you.
CS: Yeah, it’s good to be with you. I wish we had something better to talk about.
HH: I do, too, but let’s go right there. Obviously, you’ve been briefed. The House Select Committee gets briefed. Do you think we have any idea of the breadth, depth and scope of the ISIS penetration of the deep and the dark web? And would you mind explaining the deep and the dark web to people?
CS: Well, you know, cybersecurity and the deep and the dark web is obviously a part of that that’s concerning to us. But look, there’s people who can communicate, and they can do it in ways that are very, very difficult to monitor, in some ways, and in a growing way, impossible to monitor. And I think we’ve got to ask ourselves, you know, what is going to be like when the world is dark from an intelligence point of view, and we’re not able to in any way monitor and have a head’s up of what’s going on with some of these individuals as they coordinate with one another.
HH: Now the Committee passed its authorization bill. The Select Committee on Intelligence passed the Intelligence Committee Authorization Bill. Has that blown through the Senate, because one of the things I think we’ve got to realize is that intel is the answer here, not gun control. People can debate that all they want, but we really need the intelligence community to be in the game fully staffed, equipped and authorized.
CS: Well, there’s no question about that. And it was so important for us to pass that bill. And by the way, we did have bipartisan support for that bill. It was less controversial this year than it’s been in the past. But having authorization on intelligence is just the beginning. We also have to have leadership. And if I can be pointed, we need leadership in the White House that understands the problem and is willing to engage in the problem. I’ve said about a dozen times now in different interviews, does anyone believe any longer that as long as ISIS exists that we won’t continue to have these attacks, because I simply don’t believe that. As long as ISIS exists as it does, and is as powerful and as growing as they are, how long will it be until we have another attack like this here in the United States? And we’ve got to have leadership that’s willing to actually confront them, and to confine them, and to destroy them. And we just haven’t had that type of commitment from our executive, yet.
HH: The three most popular authors and opinion leaders on this are, I believe, Joby Warrick at the Washington Post, and Michael Weiss at the Daily Beast, and Daniel Silva, the novelist who puts so much facts into his novel. They all say the same thing. ISIS says a million times a day kill or come. They want you to come to the caliphate. If you can’t come to the caliphate, they want you to kill. Obviously, that happened in a suburb last night of Paris. It happened in Orlando on Sunday night. The conversation you’ve been watching with special access, there are 22 people like you in the House, and a dozen in the Senate, and then there’s the professional intelligence community. Do you think the conversation that the country’s having about Orlando has anything to do with the scope or breadth of the threat that, in other words, are Americans aware, Congressman Stewart?
CS: Well, they’re becoming more aware, and they’re becoming more accepting of it. But based on some of the media that I’ve done over the last 24 hours, some of them are still, you know, willing to put their head in the sand and change the subject. For Heaven’s sakes, this is not about gun control. As much as if you saw the demonstration in the House yesterday from the Democrats, this is not about gun control. This was Islamic terrorism. This is a terrorist attack. If you think that gun control is the answer, then tell me what happened in Belgium? Tell me what happened in Paris. They have some of the tightest gun control laws in the world. Tell me what happened in San Bernardino, that had some of the tightest gun control laws in the United States. And to pretend to the American people that if we just passed a rule or a piece of legislation that tightened up gun control, that we would eliminate this problem, it’s fundamentally dishonest to present that to the American people as this is the solution. It’s just simply not true.
HH: I’m talking with Congressman Chris Stewart of the Utah 2nd District. He’s on, a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence. Congressman, I have no trouble talking about gun control when the massacre involved, and sadly, there are a number of them, involve deranged individuals who are not jihadi who have access to weapons they should not have access to. Then, it’s a mental health discussion and a discussion of gun control. Jihadism is different, and I went at it with Brian Williams for 11 minutes yesterday, because what Donald Trump is talking about is stopping inflow into the country until we get a handle on background checks, and, I think, developing deep access to the web. When you get briefed, are you confident that we are fully in the game? In other words, do you believe our technological outreach is adequate to the task, because the Bureau had the killer twice, and they took him off the list?
CS: Yeah, you know, Hugh, I don’t know the answer to that question. I mean, I just don’t think we know, yet. We’re going to learn, we’re going to learn so much over the next few days, and we’ve learned quite a lot already. I mean, I can say that this individual didn’t wake up on Friday morning and radicalize himself in 24 hours. It’s a much longer process than that. Speaking of myself, I’ll be shocked if there weren’t others involve with this. I’ll be even more surprised if there weren’t some people around him that weren’t, to some level, aware of his intentions and could have warned us. And once again, what type of communications did he have with these individuals and perhaps others overseas? There’s a lot to learn. Now the core of your question is you know, are we good enough at this? And the answer is obviously not. I don’t want to blame the FBI. I think that they have an enormous challenge. My heavens, there’s hundreds of these individuals that they’re trying to monitor. And I think Hugh, you and I agree that you can’t arrest someone until they commit a crime.
CS: You can’t arrest, you can’t arrest someone because you’re suspicious of their activities, and no one would suggest that. But as I said, it’s an enormous challenge for them as they try with these two conflicting values – keeping us safe while at the same time protecting Constitutional liberties that actually matter.
HH: Congressman, let’s go back a little bit when you said in passing I’ll be shocked if there weren’t others involved in this. Would, you know, I hear that, and people want to know what do you mean by that? What kind of involvement? Do you mean online, radical imams, do you mean someone selling him guns, knowing what he’s going to do? What’s your instinct tell you, even though you haven’t got evidence, yet?
CS. Well, any or all or some of those things. Again, we just don’t know. But the radicalization is something that you know, again, it doesn’t happen overnight. Now if someone, as you said, is deranged, have mental health issues, there’s evidence of that, generally. But the position that I’m taking on this is that someone doesn’t wake up and have this type of evil intent without that emerging over time, and generally being fostered by someone. If he was driven…
HH: I was going to ask is there any evidence, yet, of who drove him to that if he was being manipulated, because the experts on recruitment, I mentioned Michael Weiss and Joby Warrick and Daniel Silva, the experts on recruitment who write about it talk about a grooming process that extends over a long period of time. Have you received any information, yet, about that process, vis-à-vis this killer?
CS: Well, I’m going to let the FBI answer that question if I could. And I need to be careful in some of the things that we receive in our briefings, but once again, it would be surprising to all of us if this individual didn’t, if this didn’t take time, and if there weren’t others involved in recruiting and training, and soliciting his help, and as you said, using the word grooming him as they moved him towards this type of an activity.
HH: Let me talk with you about Senator Feinstein’s proposed gun control bill that would deny guns to people on the watch list. I don’t think that would work, because it would be a violation of due process of people on a watch list where they don’t know they’re on it and haven’t got a chance to challenge it. But what about the general idea if it’s a thinned down and due processy kind of thing? Or do we want to keep the watch list secret?
CS: Well, look, the process right now is secret, and it’s also flawed. In some ways, it’s deeply flawed. And my heavens, there was a friend of mine, a member of Congress, who was on the watch list, and he was unaware of that until he tried to travel. Now one thing I think that I could never support, and that is that we would have a secret process that we’re unware of, and as a result of that, you lose your 2nd Amendment rights. Then how many of us would end up on a watch list? And would there be political motives for putting someone on the watch list? And the 2nd Amendment still matters. Our founding fathers got it right when they gave us that assurance that we would have that right to bear arms. Now do I think like you do? I think that there’s a process we could use to help those who are mentally ill, that our society has been negligent or incapable at this point of helping in a real reasonable way those who might be inclined towards this type of violence. I agree with that. But the watch list, and then taking away the right to bear arms, isn’t the answer to that. It’s got to be something more detailed that gives people a chance to know they’re on the watch list, and to be able to respond and reply to that.
HH: Congressman Chris Stewart, it’s good to have you on the show. I appreciate the work that you’re doing on this from Utah’s 2nd District, member of the House Permanent Committee, Select Committee on Intelligence. Thanks for joining us.
End of interview.