WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, delivered an opening statement at a hearing to examine the role of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence & Analysis (I&A). Portman spoke on the importance of I&A to protect the United States from threats both foreign and domestic, and highlighted the need to examine how I&A can more effectively do its job, including better distribution of information, collecting intelligence from social media platforms, and leveraging relationships with state, local, tribal, territorial, and private sector partners to quickly assess and confront new and evolving threats.
Portman highlighted how I&A’s partnership with a fusion center in Columbus, Ohio resulted in the identification of a suspect who intended to cause mass violence at a music concert venue in Columbus. However, Portman also noted that a lack of intelligence and information sharing from I&A and other intelligence agencies resulted in a lack of coordination and preparation for the Capitol attack on January 6th.
In today’s hearing, Portman heard from witnesses about how I&A can appropriately and efficiently provide intelligence collection, production, and dissemination at a time when the United States faces dynamic and complex threats, both foreign and domestic.
A transcript of his opening remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for holding this hearing. It’s important and timely for us to learn more about what the Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis does, and how to ensure that they’re doing their job better.
“DHS is responsible for protecting the homeland. And I believe its intelligence and analysis capabilities are absolutely essential to that effort. So let me just start by saying I think the role that is being played is critical and I look forward to discussing how to best equip the Department and its partners with critical, timely, and actionable intelligence to keep us safe from both foreign and domestic adversaries.
“And there are plenty of challenges right now. The events of January 6 have just been talked about, domestic terrorism, recent attacks on federal facilities and law enforcement, Mexican and other foreign cartel networks that are now operating – much more so, as I understand it — within our cities. The ongoing threat, of course, posed by foreign terrorists, all this underscores the need for ongoing intelligence and analysis focused on identifying and mitigating threats to our country.
“Since its inception, DHS has had an intelligence office to support its mission, understandably. Congress underscored the importance of intelligence and information sharing in the Implementing Recommendations from the 9/11 Commission. This was back in 2007 and that formally established the Office of Intelligence & Analysis (I&A).
“While it’s one of the smaller entities within the IC community, the Intelligence Community, I&A is the only IC member charged with delivering intelligence to our local, our state, our tribal, our territorial, and our private-sector partners and developing intelligence from these important partners for the Department and for the Intelligence Community. So, to put it simply: I&A is intended to facilitate a key layer of communication and domestic coordination required, in my view, to help support the effort at DHS to protect the homeland.
“In my home state of Ohio, we have three fusion centers that have benefitted greatly from the partnership with I&A. I have visited one of them a couple of times. This is the Cincinnati fusion center where I have seen the importance of the support and partnership that I&A provides. For example, I recently learned that an I&A intelligence officer at one of our fusion centers in Columbus, Ohio provided critical information on a suspect who had a plot to cause mass violence at a large music concert venue in Columbus. By leveraging I&A’s capabilities, the Columbus fusion center was able to quickly work with law enforcement to locate that suspect and place this individual on TSA’s no-fly list. The suspect was then intercepted while attempting to board a flight on his way to Columbus to carry out the attack. That’s an example, one example but there are many like that where I&A has played a critical role.
“The Committee learned from our oversight investigation into the January 6 attack on the Capitol that I&A fell short in reporting on the potential threat. They weren’t the only ones, but they did fall short, in my view. Security officials have cited the lack of intelligence and information sharing from I&A and other intelligence agencies as a reason law enforcement was not better prepared to respond. In our investigation, the then Acting Under Secretary for I&A revealed weaknesses in how I&A distributes information, collects intelligence from social media platforms, and leverages its relationships with state, local, tribal and territorial, and private sector partners to learn of new, evolving threats. And that will be part of the report that we will be issuing here in the next few weeks.
“Notably, I&A has an important role to play in combatting the transnational criminal organizations, so-called TCOs – including those responsible for drug trafficking, violence, human smuggling, child exploitation, and a host of other criminal activities. As I said earlier, TCOs are increasingly present here in this country. They’re always evolving, they’re always adapting to maximize their profits as they did as COVID-19 reshaped supply chains and transport patterns. In fact, according to the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, once they adjusted to the initial disruption of COVID, Mexican cartels ‘reinforced supplies of precursor materials, increased production, and are sending larger fentanyl and methamphetamine loads into the United States.’ We certainly see that at the Mexican border. It seems more important than ever for federal and local partners to be in close coordination to understand and combat these dynamic threats. And, while these challenges are national, they have hit local communities, including many in my home state of Ohio, particularly hard.
“There are a number of issues I hope we are able to explore today. There are differing opinions on what I&A’s role is with regard to intelligence collection, production, and dissemination. In my view, having timely, quality intelligence is an essential component, again, to keep our communities safe. I hope today that we can talk about how DHS can appropriately provide these capabilities at a time when we face some threats that are homegrown.
“The threats we face are dynamic and becoming more complex every day. And they aren’t all focused on Washington, D.C. Considering the current environment, how can I&A best leverage those fusion centers we talked about and its partnerships with state, local, and private sector partners to meet the needs of the department charged with securing our homeland?
“Finally, over the years, I&A has faced challenges in recruiting qualified talent and has experienced consistently low morale and high rates of attrition. This is a deep concern of mine. I hope our witnesses can help us understand what can be done to address these longstanding personnel issues. General Taylor, Ms. Cogswell, Mr. Sena, and Ms. Patel, I am looking forward to your testimony and some answers to those questions we posed today. Thank you.”