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Homeland Security Office Creates ‘Intelligence Spam,’ Insiders Say

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Posted on Sep 6, 2011
vegatripy (CC-BY-ND)

By Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz, CIR

(Page 2)

A senior official in the department acknowledged the problems that have hindered the intelligence and analysis office. But the official said the office has made “significant” progress under the Obama administration and now plays an increasingly important role in homeland security.

John Cohen, one of the department’s top counterterrorism leaders, said the operation has a stronger focus on its state and local government “customers” and offers more training, technology and access to information. He said the quality and timeliness of reports have improved.

“The results of our progress have been clearly demonstrated on the (Capitol) Hill and by others,” Cohen said. “If you look at (the office) over the course of its lifetime, its role and emphasis has evolved.”

Off to a rough start

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The Office of Intelligence and Analysis got its start in early 2003, not long after Congress approved the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

The nation’s leaders gave the new office a mandate that went to the core of post-9/11 security: to gather and share available intelligence to head off domestic threats. The office was supposed to take on roles once assigned to the CIA and FBI.

The hurdles to success were immense. In the wake of the 2001 attacks, qualified analysts were in high demand across the federal government. As established agencies scooped up the available talent, the new homeland security team turned to private contractors.

Booz Allen Hamilton, a multibillion-dollar consulting firm in Virginia, was hired to boost the operation. The company, which has hundreds of former CIA, FBI and high-ranking federal officials on its payroll, received a $2 million contract without competition in 2003.

With almost no oversight by the Department of Homeland Security or Congress, the contract quickly ballooned to $73 million in spending – even while homeland security lawyers declared the arrangement contractually illegal, according to a Washington Post account at the time.

Four years after the original contract, spending reached $124 million. When the department finally held a competition for additional work, it awarded more contracts to Booz Allen. At the time, a Booz Allen executive defended the firm’s work, saying they had followed federal rules and charged fair prices, according to the Post.

Joining Booz Allen were other contractors, including defense industry giant General Dynamics. That firm’s task was to provide intelligence analysis, write and publish reports, ensure network security, develop strategy plans, and offer other support.

The new office would not have its own intelligence agents, spy satellites or informants. Instead, it would gather information on potential threats from a variety of other law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Despite its vaunted mission, the office did not get off to a comfortable start. The operation was anchored in an outmoded building in northwest Washington, D.C., on a 37-acre former naval facility used during World War II to crack secret codes. Government employees and contractors worked on plastic card tables, without secure telecommunication lines. For a time, the office was so provisional that other intelligence agencies didn’t even know where it was.

“We literally had to wait for them to call us and complain they weren’t getting any reports from us,” said a former high-ranking CIA official. “It took them 30-plus days.”

Gaps in leadership also hindered the operation in its early days. The first chief of the Department of Homeland Security’s information analysis office, a former CIA counterintelligence official named Paul Redmond, quit less than four months after taking the job in March 2003.

When his successor, retired Army Lt. Gen. Patrick Hughes, a former Defense Intelligence Agency chief, arrived in November 2003, only 27 people worked there.

As more employees eventually arrived, the office moved to what is known as Building 19, its current location at Homeland Security headquarters. Constructed in 1946, the building had bad plumbing that caused toilets to overflow. Asbestos had to be removed from the walls. Employees sweltered inside the building during the sticky D.C. summer and sat at their desks bundled up in hats and coats in the winter. Power failures were common.

Word about the ill-equipped and inexperienced office quickly spread through the intelligence community. The CIA and FBI maneuvered to keep their old duties, essentially undercutting the authority of the new office.

“DHS (the Department of Homeland Security) has to earn its right to have a seat at the (intelligence community) table,” said Jack Thomas Tomarchio, who served as a deputy undersecretary in the intelligence and analysis office. “Just because there’s a congressional fiat doesn’t mean ‘we’ll put our arms around you.’ ”

Reports lack new information

Dissatisfaction with the intelligence and analysis office has been stoked by the quality of its reports, which many law enforcement and intelligence authorities consider to be useless, lacking in context or simply lifted from news accounts. Those problems persist.

In one report released in late January, the office announced that there had been a nationwide spate of police shootings, a fact that already had appeared days before in The New York Times, The Seattle Times and other newspapers across the country.

In other cases, the intelligence and analysis office claims to share “raw intelligence” reports that receive no analysis but might contain information valuable to other local, state and federal agencies. But those reports sometimes were a simple rehash of other publicly available reports.


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By Usability Testing, March 9, 2012 at 2:40 am Link to this comment

Because the analysis used in the intelligence office is so new and untested before, it is hard to allow others to undergo usability testing for it. It means that it is hard to prove whether it really works or not. If it has been useless all this while in actually detecting and preventing terrorist attacks, then it would have been a huge waste of public funds.

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D.R. Zing's avatar

By D.R. Zing, September 7, 2011 at 8:28 pm Link to this comment

Here’s a photographer talking about being a suspect for taking pictures. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55r_f_n7IVo&feature=related

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By SarcastiCanuck, September 7, 2011 at 11:48 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Can’t wait to read thier terrorist assesment on the Girl Guides of America….There is something sinister going on with those cookies.

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peterjkraus's avatar

By peterjkraus, September 6, 2011 at 6:54 pm Link to this comment

We have devolved into a society that rewards
failure and expects nothing from its
leaders.

By that standard, Homeland Security is doing
a great job, Brownie.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, September 6, 2011 at 4:09 pm Link to this comment

gerard,

Good point.  This would explain why sites like Wikileaks are so sensational with news outlets, investigative journalism use to be their turf.

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By gerard, September 6, 2011 at 2:44 pm Link to this comment

Second main problem:  The “right to surveille” goes only one way:  The government has the right to sur-veille its citizens; those citizens do not have equal rights to surveille their government.  Nor do thay have tha means and access which would enable them to do so. Nor do they particularly want to surveille their government.  On the contrary, they have either lost interest or are scared they will be surveilled for surveilling.

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By gerard, September 6, 2011 at 10:12 am Link to this comment

Main problem:  If it was shut down, 875,000 more
people would be standing in line at unemployment offices, and an unknown number would lose their homes, go on welfare, etc. etc. The entire MIC is more or less one grand boondoggle which neither the citizens nor the officials of a wise democratic government would tolerate.

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By JMD, September 6, 2011 at 9:06 am Link to this comment

Andrew Becker/G.W.Schultz,CIR       9/06/2011
          Connecting some of the dots you leave
wide open in your article.
        (a)Hundreds of millions of dollars are
spent on a poorly defined mission,with reports that
are outdated,irrelevant,vague or are regurgitated.
“Despite being well-documented problems”? Maybe,even
misrepresented?
        (b)Since 2003,21,000 reports have been
published and are stripped of sensitive detail.Mind
you this is an Intelligence gathering agency?How many
people were covered by these reports?“There are more
than 300 million people in the United States of
America.The 21,000 reports you refer to would not
justify the hundreds of millions of dollars spent,
unless this is a luxury resort - agency?
        (c)Now,it is at up to at least $2 billion
and counting,that has been submitted to Congress.
        (d)The office may be cloaked in secrecy
however,this does not eliminate the need for scrutiny
or accountability.Lawmakers and others do not want to
be blamed for shutting it down for fear of another
major attack.Really?With,“No exact accounting for
spending…” What might be the real motives for
keeping these programs on going - forever?
          These are but a few of the dots from
your article that indicate,money and a great deal of
power appear to be the real underlying issues here.
          What is dishonest,is to claim that
“ordinary people” get caught up searching for
terrorists,after a decade or more of their spying.
          The Patriot Act serves as a “signatory”
for the North American Union.The new Declaration of
Dependence of the America’s. 
          Thanking you for this opportunity -
          James M. de Laurier

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By Stewart Edison, September 6, 2011 at 7:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Homeland Security has been a feeding frenzy for those with good Beltway connections.  Remember the report by the WashPost in summer of 2010 that documented the massive scale (e.g., at least 875,000 people with top secret clearances)?

If you want to know how effectively all these agencies and contractors are managed, consider the position of Director of National Intelligence, which on paper sounds like a key position. Since formed in 2005 it has had five Directors and five Principal Deputy Directors! By the time their business card is printed, they’ve been replaced!

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By Jim Yell, September 6, 2011 at 6:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Terrorists are most effective by what they threaten to do and not by what they do, because when they succeed in doing something they receive a lot of unpleasant blow back.

This whole farce was started and justified by ignoring that our old intellegence apparatus was effective without this enlarged authority to invade everyones lives. The problem is the politicians and diplomats want to cherry pick the information in order to enhance the relationships that they wish to pursue. In other words the intellgence was there to stop 9/11 but it was ignored. The new mega-intellgence is just another opportunity for obfuscation and confusion.

We are all being played.

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