Code red, continued
Harman's knowledge of foreign policy, her bipartisan outlook and her toughness impressed fellow commission members. "She doesn't back down," said Juliette Kayyem '95, a Kennedy School lecturer and fellow commission member.
The commission's 44-page report released in June 2000 warned that terrorists would "seek to inflict mass casualties" on American soil and called on government to prepare for catastrophic attacks that might kill tens of thousands.
Harman says their findings, like many such reports before and after, did little more than gather dust. In fact, on Sept. 10, 2001, Harman, who had won re-election to her old House seat a year earlier, had lunch with Bremer, lamenting the fact that no one heeded their warnings.
One day later, she was in her Capitol Hill office watching the second airliner hit the World Trade Center on television before Capitol police ordered the building evacuated. In the ensuing chaotic hours, Harman took refuge along with other members of the intelligence committee in Congressman Saxby Chambliss' basement apartment.
Within days, she had visited both the Pentagon and ground zero in New York City. Landing near the smoldering World Trade Center site by boat, she recalled the overwhelming smell of concrete dust, and the trailers labeled "Morgue." "It's bigger and more horrible than you can know," she told the Los Angeles Business Journal in October 2001.
In the three years since, her travels have taken her to the kinds of places, she said, that "never get written up in Travel & Leisure": North Korea; Syria; Afghanistan; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and Libya, where she was part of a congressional delegation that met with Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
"When I come home, I often have trouble sleeping, not because of the jet lag, but because I know the seriousness of the threats we face, and I know that, in many respects, we should be better-equipped to stop these threats," Harman told a Harvard Law School audience in April.
Back in Washington, like all members of Congress, she has been forced to think about the unthinkable: whether to postpone November elections and how to replace lawmakers killed en masse in the event of an attack. She has at times been a strong critic of the Bush administration's antiterror tactics and blasted both Congress and the courts for lax oversight of the war on terror.
But in the House Intelligence Committee she has focused mainly on how the government gathers, analyzes and shares intelligence. Her top priority this year has been the appointment of a single national intelligence director, who, she argues, can help unify the nation's 15 separate intelligence agencies.
"Our current intelligence community was created in 1947 to fight an enemy that no longer exists," she said. "Our 15 agencies now operate with different rules, cultures and databases. That must change."
It is an idea that gained traction this summer. President Bush embraced the concept after the 9/11 Commission endorsed it in its report. Ironically, Harman, who was always out front as one of the strongest advocates for radical overhaul, now finds herself being surpassed by Republicans like Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, who has called for breaking up the Central Intelligence Agency.