DHS intelligence officials face Hill questions
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.”
| May 11, 2010; 9:34 PM ET
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