WASHINGTON - An eight-day trip to the Middle East has left Sen. Mike DeWine (R., Ohio) with little optimism about prospects for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the belief that a U.S. attack on Iraq may be necessary, and determination that in-the-field intelligence must be beefed up to fight terrorism.
Mr. DeWine, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, traveled to Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Israel with chairman Sen. Bob Graham (D., Fla.) and their wives to review security issues and do research for the committee's report on Sept. 11, expected to be completed in February. Mr. DeWine said that the committee has to be careful the report doesn't degenerate into finger-pointing but addresses the problem of getting better intelligence.
Proposals to have the CIA and the FBI report directly to a new Department of Homeland Security, being developed in Congress this week, will involve a lot of negotiation to make sure sources of raw intelligence data are not compromised, he said.
Mr. DeWine said that there have to be more agents in the field, more linguists, and more of an effort to retain mid-career intelligence officers. He also said the out-dated computers intelligence officers use now constitute a problem that must be solved.
Mr. Graham said that despite nine months of U.S. attacks on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan there are “disturbing'' reports that the terrorist network is beginning to regenerate and that a new round of threats against the United States has to be given credence.
Both senators said they came home convinced Hezbollah terrorists operating in camps in Lebanon are a “huge, huge problem'' the United States cannot afford to ignore. Despite Egypt's denial, Mr. DeWine said, Hezbollah maintains a goal of spreading terrorism worldwide and attacking Americans.
He repeated his insistence that Saddam Hussein has chemical and biological weapons and is trying to get nuclear weapons. He refused to be specific, saying, “A lot of this stuff is classified.''
He said if President Bush decides Iraq intends to use such weapons, a preemptive strike by the United States would be essential, even though such leaders as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Syrian leader Bashar Assad warned the senators in “very blunt” language they strongly oppose such an attack.
He said he and Mr. Graham told everyone they met they back the Bush Mideast policy. But he said that while the United States must stay engaged in trying to bring about peace, “we can't force'' the parties into peace.
He said gloomily, “Our relationship with the Muslim world is clearly being impacted'' by the impasse in the Middle East. He said there is a lot of “disarray'' in the Palestinian leadership but that he did not meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat because he did not think it would be advantageous and would have “muddied things up.''
He said his trip convinced him “this is going to remain a very dangerous world.''
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