Law 911

Code red

Christopher Cox '76 ('77) and Jane Harman '69 sit on different sides of the aisle, but the urgent threat of terrorism unites them


Republican Christopher Cox '76 ('77), head of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, and Jane Harman '69, senior Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

Most Augusts, members of Congress on Capitol Hill are as rare as palm trees in Cambridge.

But this year was different. When the bipartisan 9/11 Commission released its report in July calling for a radical overhaul of how the nation fights terrorism, members of Congress couldn't rush back to Washington fast enough.

So on a muggy Tuesday morning, three dozen members of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security returned from summer vacations or the campaign trail to hear testimony from the 9/11 Commission's two leaders.

Presiding over the hearing was Homeland Security Committee Chairman Christopher Cox '76 ('77), a Republican, and a few seats over was Jane Harman '69, the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Being at the center of the debate over terrorism is nothing new for Cox and Harman, who, since 9/11, have become two of the leading--and most vocal--advocates for change.

Their prominence grew during a summer when every week seemed to bring fresh controversies, such as those surrounding new orange alerts or establishing the position of a national intelligence director.

But even with the weight of the 9/11 Commission behind them, neither is sure the reforms they champion will be enacted this year.

True, Cox and Harman sit squarely on opposite sides of the political aisle in the House: Cox is the fourth-highest-ranking Republican behind the speaker, as chairman of the House Policy Committee, and Harman was mentioned as a possible running mate for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

But their resumes look surprisingly similar: Both served in the White House before being elected to Congress (she as President Carter's deputy secretary to the Cabinet, he as counsel to President Reagan). Both represent seaside California districts--a fact visible in their neighboring House offices, where beach scenes decorate the walls.

In fact, the two complement each other so well that barely a month goes by that they are not paired up to talk about the crisis of the week on Sunday morning news shows.

And while each has a long-standing interest in foreign policy, the 9/11 attacks have required them to focus almost exclusively on terrorism.

Harman says she was drawn to foreign affairs even as a child. The daughter of a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, she left her California high school to study in Switzerland for a year. She returned to Switzerland after graduating from Harvard Law School to work for the World Council of Churches and a Zionist organization.

First elected to Congress in 1992, she represented a defense- and aerospace-heavy district in California where, she points out, most of the nation's spy satellites are built. She served on both the national security and intelligence committees but admits "terrorism was not on my radar." That changed when she was appointed by House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt to the National Commission on Terrorism, established after U.S. Embassies in Africa were bombed in 1999.

At the time, she was on what she calls a two-year "sabbatical" from Congress, having opted not to run for re-election in 1998 and to run instead for governor of California, a race she lost.

The experience of serving on the terror commission, chaired by a then little-known ambassador, L. Paul Bremer III, she says, was an eye-opener. "It was absolutely clear to us that the terrorists don't want a seat at the table, they want to blow up the table, and that a major attack on U.S. soil was coming," she told an audience at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government earlier this year.

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