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Posted at 9:34 PM ET, 05/11/2010

DHS intelligence officials face Hill questions

By Jeff Stein

Top DHS intelligence officials could get some heat on Capitol Hill on Wednesday about a string of near homeland security disasters, from the attempted sabotage of a Northwest Airlines flight last December to the improvised bomb left in an SUV in Times Square 10 days ago.

But the hearing of a House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence issues follows months, if not years, of grumbling that the department has yet to figure out what its proper intelligence role is.

The panel’s star witness is Caryn Wagner, DHS’s undersecretary for intelligence and analysis, who has been in the job only three months.

But panel members are particularly unhappy with her deputy, Bart Johnson, who was the acting DHS intelligence head for almost a year before the White House could find someone confirmable for the job.

Its first choice, former CIA and FBI official Phil Mudd, withdrew in the face of criticism, much of it secretly orchestrated by Hill Republicans, that he had been too deeply involved in secret prisons and harsh interrogation methods to be DHS’s intelligence chief.

Last September, Johnson outlined plans for a “realignment” of the DHS’s Intelligence and Analysis wing. But in the eight months since then, according to both Democratic and Republican panel members, Johnson has been unresponsive to their frequent requests for more information.

Indeed, Wagner and her deputy, Johnson, have offered different visions of an Intelligence mission for DHS. And in what’s left of the two-hour hearing, that’s where the panel, chaired by California Rep. Jane Harman, will bear down – within security limits.

"The majority of intelligence issues surrounding the Times Square cannot be discussed in an open hearing," Dena Graziano, communications director for the Homeland Security Committee Democrats, told SpyTalk.

Meanwhile, a former staff director of the Homeland Security Committee says critics shouldn’t be so harsh on DHS intelligence, considering all the changes it has been through since the department was cobbled together from two dozen disparate agencies in 2004.

“It’s on the right track,” Jessica Herrera-Flanigan told SpyTalk. “They are trying to move it to being a distributor of information rather than just a gatherer of information.”

One criticism of Johnson and Wagner is that neither has field experience as an intelligence officer. But that's not what's needed at the top levels of DHS intelligence, Herrera-Flanigan thinks.

“It’s not a cloak-and-dagger operation,” she said, “but in the past some
wanted it that way.”

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By Jeff Stein  | May 11, 2010; 9:34 PM ET
Categories:  Intelligence  
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DHS is such a joke. Caryn Wagner has said in front of I&A that the "we're a young agency" excuse is not valid anymore. It's been 7 years since this agency stood up and the kinks should be out by now. But what is someone saying in this article...don't be hard on DHS, they are still young and have issues with their components.

Dismantle this stupid agency and put the legacy components back to how they were and you'll have a happy and productive workforce again.

Posted by: caryh | May 12, 2010 6:57 AM | Report abuse

The fact is, the DHS will NEVER be an efficient organization able to fullfill all its 'roles' in a manner that many have come to expect. It simply is a kludge created from many agencies and deparments with no thought to its organization or consideration of how it should work... much less clear-cut mission. Its formation was nothing more than a knee-jerk political reaction to real threats, without serious consideration of how it should/could counter the perceived threats.
For the welfare of the nation, it should be euthanized and its component parts either returned to its parent agencies and departments or spun off into smaller bits with CLEAR missions upon which they can focus. (The source of the greatest lack of focus seems, IMO, to be in the upper echelons, who seem to focus only on the flavor of the day to the exclusion of others. The span of interest/missions/control is simply too large.)

Posted by: wgard | May 12, 2010 7:13 AM | Report abuse

Where does the buck stop? Not one mention of the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano. Seems like she is more focused on the amnesty for illegals than she is on the security of the citizens and legal immigrants in the country.

It is probably only a matter of time before some terrorist comes across our southern border with a weapon - biological or otherwise. Then what? Will the blame be put on the Border Patrol, whose agents are outnumbered and outgunned? Or on the border states whose governors and other officials have asked for federal help in securing our borders?

Not a happy situation, but true.

Posted by: Utahreb | May 12, 2010 7:28 AM | Report abuse

The agencies aren't communicating so you get things like 911 and other nasty things. Solution in Washington: Create a new agency not to communicate effectively. Keep us Posted.

Posted by: tossnokia | May 12, 2010 7:39 AM | Report abuse

The DHS is a big white elephant BUSH baby, the wrongly conceived agency under Bush / Cheney tutelage to promote the propaganda of terror hype, fomentation of hate, fear and republican feeding frenzy to control the hearts and minds of misled and gullible nation. It first head Ridge, under the republican auspices accumulated rank and file of double, triple dippers conservative republicans that not only lead it astray but that used it as a cash cow with waste and abuse amounting to cow dung.

Since its formation it has done nothing right but added white hog wash with programs that are not only useless but a huge inconvenience to the public and business such as airlines and public safety and security. It has tens of thousands senile old men and women around airports, that cannot walk 100 yards. Others as bailiff in Federal and State Court Systems as part of the woodwork ad in some cases jury temperers of the like minded kind.

More so that they are more of a problem then the solution, with all the hindrance and waste and abuse of taxpayers money. So that these double and triple dipper conservative republicans can mooch off.

Posted by: winemaster2 | May 12, 2010 7:39 AM | Report abuse

Fortunately, those responsible for DHS weren't around during WWII - otherwise, it might still be an ongoing war. Between December 1941 and August 1945, the military went from a few hundred thousand to 12 million; the atomic bomb was developed (Oak Ridge TN went from nothing to 5th largest city in the state); factories went from manufacturing cars to turning out tanks and planes; and, a 2 front war was won. After a longer period, DHS still doesn't know its roles?

Perhaps if there were fewer political appointees and if those in congress spent less time collecting money for re-election, the situation would be better. Of course, Congress is largely responsible for creating DHS (yet failed to ensure proper execution).

Posted by: RichardCollins | May 12, 2010 7:41 AM | Report abuse

While they are there, can they pass along a message to Obama asking WHY he did not prosecute those who tortured for America under Cheney's command?

I really want to know.


Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | May 12, 2010 7:55 AM | Report abuse

Hey potatospam, then we can prosecute Clinton for implementing the policy of extraordinary rendition, and Obambi for continuing it. Then we can prosecute Clinton for attacking a country that posed absolutely no threat to the USA (Serbia). Then we can prosecute Obambi for war crimes, for killing civilians in a country we're not even at war with (Pakistan). How's that?

By the way, have you noticed how nervous the Iranians and North Koreans are, now that Obambi is president? Me neither.

Posted by: Jeff08 | May 12, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

DHS will never "work". The moment it was created by King George II it was as large and screwed up as OPM.

Posted by: Zontag | May 12, 2010 9:36 AM | Report abuse

DHS has two primary jobs -- preventing an attack on the homeland and responding to the emergency created by one. Combining the two appears to have made it impossible to manage either -- despite the fact many of the resources invovled are the same. Time to re-think the original premise and back off trying to take on the big daddy Fed role of managing the response to natural and manmade disasters, e.g., BP in the Gulf. Those jobs are often big enough to warrant the full time attention of a dedicated staff.

Posted by: brcolorado | May 12, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

As previously mentioned by other commenters, DHS is starting to look more like a joke. DHS really does need to be dismantled and put the legacy components back to how they once were. With all the ensuing crisis that we have experienced DHS has not be properly stood up. No one in a leadership role has looked at how inefficient DHS is and continues to be. Realigning Intelligence and Analysis has been a serious joke with management not understanding how each division functions and how they would best be laid out. In any DHS is broken from the top down and trying to fix the agency may not be worth it to the tax payers.

Posted by: hm21 | May 12, 2010 10:45 AM | Report abuse

This is the same happy group of web surfers who leaked their "report" that veterans from Iraq an Afghanistan pose a threat to national security because of their vulnerability from right-wing militias.

They mean wel, but they are highly political, and they have absolutely no room for anyone who does not share their liberal agenda.

In doing so, they fail. How many contractors have they fired solely for political reasons?

Posted by: cibor | May 12, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

What a waste of the taxpayer's dollars DHS is. They should give them a mop and let them go clean on the oil spill. It would be the first thing Napolitano ever did in her political career that was useful. While they're at it they can layoff all the ICE employees-they aren't using them anyway.

Posted by: sylent1 | May 12, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

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