He was born on the family ranch, earned a B.A. in history from Tech in 1980, he went on to the University of Texas Law School where he graduated in 1983. For the next several years, he worked in Washington, including serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs in the State Department in the Reagan Administration. In 1989, he returned to his brothers in the cattle business and practiced law in Amarillo , dealing with the appropriate bulls in both cases.
He is known as a national security specialist. In Congress, he is on the House Armed Services Committee and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.He participates in national security activites outside the Congress, such as the Transformation Advisory Group to the United States Joint Forces Command, and national-level war gaming. Other involvements include the Smart Power Commission of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and membership in the Council on Foreign Relations.
Six months before the 9-11 Attacks, he introduced legislation to establish a National Homeland Security Agency to protect the U.S. from terrorism. This was based on the recommendations of the Hart-Rudman Commission, and became the foundation of the formation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
On the Armed Services Committee, he is a member of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee and Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee.
In the intelligence committee, he serves on the Tactical and Technical Intelligence Subcommittee.He wrote an article, in March 2010, for Politico, which poses a number of policy issues that reflect political vs. professional views toward intelligence. The Foreign Policy Research Institute mentioned it, in its mailing list, as significant commentary. His observations did include political positioning, but still bring up relevant points. He wrote,
I thought of those who “blame America first” last week as the House of Representatives considered the intelligence authorization bill. Up to that point, the measure had languished for seven months, allowing the controversy sparked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s charge that the CIA misleads Congress all of the time to cool down. So, while most eyes were on the White House health care summit, the House leadership scheduled a vote on the intelligence legislation.
Intelligence collection is, without a doubt, serious business. Yet the Obama administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress continue to make it harder to collect the intelligence we need. Over the past year, the Obama administration released classified memos detailing interrogation techniques despite the appeal of five former CIA directors not to do so. They also appointed a special prosecutor to reinvestigate those who participated in the CIA interrogation program and launched ethics investigations against Justice Department lawyers whose legal opinions they did not like, emphasizing the danger of taking risks to all. And, of course, Pelosi, when questioned about the briefings she received on the interrogations, responded by accusing the CIA of lying.
The scheduling of the vote, however, was just the precursor to an even more egregious maneuver. Assuming that no one was watching, the House leadership ordered that an alarming provision be included in a manager’s amendment, which is normally a compilation of technical and relatively noncontroversial items that are often routinely adopted.
One glance at this amendment, however, revealed that it was anything but routine. The amendment’s author, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Washington), himself said the amendment defined specific acts that would be treated as cruel and degrading as a matter of law...The plain truth is that no county jail or state prison in the country could operate with such absurd restrictions.
Indeed, intelligence directors did object, but those directors are politically appointed senior managers, although some do come from a career background. With various levels of caveat, however, a number of career intelligence professionals, specializing in human-source intelligence, felt restrictions were appropriate. McDermott cited intelligence officers Stuart Herrington and Robert Baer, as well as John Huston, retired Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Navy .
- Mac Thornberry (3 March 2010), "Pointing fingers won't make U.S. safe", Politico
- Rep. Jim McDermott remarks on his amendment to criminalize brutal interrogations, Rep. Jim McDermott, 26 February 2010