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Homeland Security Office Creates ‘Intelligence Spam,’ Insiders Say
Posted on Sep 6, 2011
By Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz, CIR
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 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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