WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Wednesday sought assurances from the Administration’s nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) about a contract his company secured to interrogate prisoners in Iraq for a few months in 2004.
General Robert Harding told the Committee that none of the interrogators he provided to the Army engaged in harsh interrogation techniques and none had been cited for wrongdoing or prisoner abuse. He said that he repaid the federal government $1.8 million after the contract was terminated because he had provided severance packages to his interrogators, who were suddenly out of a job, although his company had no written policy to do so.
“If you are confirmed you take charge of an agency that has made enormous strides in the last seven years to strengthen the security of the commercial aviation sector,” Lieberman said. “But the Christmas Day attack reminds us that this is a tough assignment and our homeland defenses can still be breached.
“The TSA Administrator oversees an agency of 50,000 employees with an $8 billion annual budget and a very important mission, which is to protect the safety of passengers and cargo travelling by air, rail, or road.
“General Harding, I appreciated your 33 years of service in the U.S. Army. You are a nominee with vast experience in intelligence and security issues, as well as a proven ability to manage organizations that themselves need to work cooperatively with other organizations if they are to fulfill their missions.”
Collins said: “Terrorists will continue to devise new strategies to penetrate our defenses. Armed with that knowledge, the TSA cannot be caught flat-footed by focusing only on the techniques terrorists employed in their last attack. Our defenses must be forward-looking and nimble, and TSA must foster a culture of continuous improvement to anticipate new challenges. But aviation isn’t the only sector of transportation that merits TSA’s vigilant efforts. The agency’s mission extends to other modes of transportation as well, including our mass transit system. We cannot focus all our resources on terrorist threats to aviation alone, as the threat does not stop there.”
Regarding Harding’s contract with the federal government, Senator Collins later added: "Based on today's hearing and my review of the record, I believe General Harding has adequately addressed my concerns regarding his former firm's contract with the Defense Department. He also testified under oath that there were no allegations of abuse by any the firm's interrogators who were sent to Iraq. Before making a final determination on the nomination, however, I want to review additional information in order to ensure that all relevant data regarding the nominee have been thoroughly examined."
As the Director for Operations at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), General Harding managed the $1 billion intelligence collection programs and almost 5,000 employees, including more than 200 attachés stationed abroad.
After retiring from government, General Harding formed his own security consultancy, Harding Security Associates, and continued to work with the DIA on a contractual basis.