WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, asked expert witnesses about the importance of having the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) at the Department of Homeland Security to protect the United States from threats both foreign and domestic. The former I&A officials agreed with Portman that the office is essential to safeguarding the United States from evolving threats.
Portman also highlighted the need to examine how I&A can more effectively do its job, including leveraging relationships with state, local, tribal, territorial, and private sector partners to quickly assess and confront the growth of transnational criminal organizations, or TCOs, which are responsible for a large number of criminal activities in the United States, including the movement of illicit, deadly synthetic drugs, like fentanyl, throughout the country.
Finally, Portman urged the administration to put in place leadership at I&A in an effort to boost morale and address workforce issues within the office.
A transcript of the questioning can be found below and a video can be found here.
Portman: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me just start, if I could, with General Taylor and Ms. Cogswell. You know, a fundamental question here, both of you have a broad national security background, including having at one time had the role of managing I&A. Do we need I&A at DHS? Yes or no?”
General Francis Taylor, Former Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis at DHS: “Yes.”
Patricia Cogswell, Former Deputy Administrator of Transportation Security Administration at DHS: “I agree as well.”
Portman: “Okay, well I think there is some fundamental rethinking going on right now and I think it’s important, in my view, that we have this intelligence gathering capability, particularly, as both of you commented on, because our state, local, tribal, and private sector coordination and communication goes through I&A. Nobody else has that responsibility, is that correct?”
General Taylor: “That’s correct.”
Portman: “One of my big concerns has been the growth of these so-called TCOs, the transnational criminal organizations, they’re responsible for a lot of criminal activity, as you know, but one that is particularly pernicious right now is the movement of drugs into our communities, particularly fentanyl and other synthetic opioids which, unfortunately, killed more people last year, from everything we know, than ever in our history. And they seem to be working their way into the system more, in other words, they’re more vertically integrated into our communities themselves, not just bringing things across the border as they’re certainly doing. What are we doing with regard to I&A and that issue? Are we thinking expansively enough when it comes to combatting these TCOs that have these tentacles in communities around the country? What is your view, General Taylor?”
General Taylor: “Senator Portman, I think this is a problem for the entire DHS intelligence enterprise. The organization Ms. Cogswell led and ICE has a very important role to play in helping state and local law enforcement, as well as other federal partners, gather the intelligence that’s necessary to disrupt these TOC organizations going forward so I don’t think it’s just I&A but it’s how the intelligence enterprise is organized to support the investigation and fieldwork of CBP, of ICE, of DEA across the country is the important role that I&A plays in trying to coordinate that effort.”
Portman: “How about the coordination with those 18,000 police forces around the country? Isn’t that a key role?”
General Taylor: “Absolutely, and that’s a part of understanding what is going on on the ground, what those priorities are, and sharing that information more broadly with federal partners. Not just with I&A, but with ICE and CBP so that we have a fuller picture of what’s actually happening and how it can be interdicted.”
Portman: “Ms. Cogswell, you have thoughts on TCOs?”
Ms. Cogswell: “I do, thank you very much. As you noted, critically topic for us. I would like to give one example to General Taylor’s point from when I was actually still there. We were extremely fortunate as the National Security Council began examining the transnational organized crime issue that they said, ‘We want to look to have a law enforcement organization lead a whole of community effort to assess the threat across all of the different dimensions that will help set the stage for us to have the right policy debate about how the U.S. government can take better and broader action. I was extremely fortunate that my team, my chief of staff at the time, was selected to lead the effort for the entire community with the support of DHS I&A, as well as other members of DHS, the Department of Justice, and the Intelligence Community. I think that is a fantastic example of how the community comes together through these mechanisms to provide valuable intelligence that helps set direction for policy, whether additional legislation may be needed, where the resourcing is allocated.”
Portman: “From what you know, and again, we don’t have the acting undersecretary here with us, because we’re not mixing the public and private panels, but from what you all know, and those who are joining us virtually please speak up as well, do you think the current administration is focused enough on the TCO threat?”
Ms. Cogswell: “I know it is, in fact, a priority for them and that there is work underway and in particular, I am aware of some very good discussions underway between DHS I&A, the office of policy, and the operating components of DHS.”
Portman: “Yeah, General?”
General Taylor: “I agree, but Senator Portman one of the challenges at I&A, there are 700 people in the entire organization. There are directorates of the CIA or DIA that have twice as many people so I think I&A is trying to satisfy as many customers as it can, but it doesn’t have the resources to spread itself as wide as it needs to. And so one of the things I think we should focus on is where should those priorities come from, where should those investments be made, and resources prior to I&A.”
Portman: “Well, I think that’s a good point. That’s one reason I’m asking you all about this because we’ve talked about domestic terrorism here and I assume we all agree that’s important, but I think these TCOs, from what we know from open source information as well as others, it’s growing as a threat, and again working its way, its tentacles, into our communities. You talked about the relatively small number of people, compared to others, in the IC community. We’ve got a real problem with attrition too, and morale. Both of you have been consumers of the intelligence, you’ve also been there working with the individuals. And I want to hear from our other colleagues too who are on virtually, but Ms. Cogswell, let’s start with you quickly. What do you think I&A can do to deal with consistently low morale and the lack of leadership? And I would hope that the administration, by the way, would nominate somebody for that undersecretary slot, right away. And that we can get somebody in there who is willing to stick around for a while to provide some leadership but I’d love to hear your comments on that.”
Ms. Cogswell: “Thank you very much. I agree with you that consistency and leadership that will be there for a period of time is critically important. I would also say that assuming that this Committee proceeds forward with some of our recommended changes, I know DHS will be considering them as well, I’m hopeful that those are built in a way that will pass the test of time. Will frankly last for a period of years, much like the reviews after 9/11, we looked at how various activities occurred in the Intelligence Community. I would hope similar activities would play themselves out at DHS I&A, and frankly across the Homeland Security enterprise.”
Portman: “Well I think our report I mentioned earlier is going to be helpful in that regard as well. Let me just quickly end on one – really comment – it’s a question but we don’t have time to get into it. I see a contradiction, Ms. Patel, in what you’re advocating and what others are advocating. We want more focus on domestic terrorism. We certainly have seen with regard to January 6th, we didn’t have the information needed. It was online. There were plenty of threats of violence that were actually, you know, followed through on, and yet Ms. Patel, you seem to be saying that we shouldn’t rely on online information, it’s unreliable, it’s free speech, and violence that’s threatened online doesn’t necessarily mean it’s really violence. But that seems contradictory to what our experience is. So, can you comment on that quickly and to the extent that we don’t have time, maybe we can get into that in a second round.”
Faiza Patel, Director of the Liberty & National Security Program: “Thank you for the question. I think we have to just define what we are looking for online. I’m not saying, by any means that we can never tell that violence is going to occur or criminal activity is going to occur online. I think there are probably ways that we can figure that out. What I’m saying though is that we should start with the violence, rather than focusing on different narratives and grievances which are widely shared. So it’s really a question of whether you go broad to narrow or whether you start with actual threats of violence, criminal activity, and then fan out from there to find other people who might be involved.”
Portman: “Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”