By Susan Crabtree - 04/03/10 10:26 AM EDT
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Homeland
Security Committee, is accusing Deputy National Security Adviser John
Brennan of interfering with Congress’s oversight on key intelligence
King’s latest frustration came Friday morning when he read news accounts about the new Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) aviation security measures before being briefed on the program from anyone in the administration. He said the White House instructed TSA officials not to talk to members of Congress about the new security steps before they were announced Friday morning and blamed Brennan for setting up an “iron curtain of secrecy” between the administration and Congress on important intelligence issues.
A TSA official refuted King’s contention that he and other members of the House Homeland Security panel were not offered a briefing before the new aviation protocols were announced Friday morning.
“The congressman's staff was notified prior to press reports that a change to aviation security was going to be announced, and he was offered a classified briefing at a time of his convenience to learn more about the enhanced measures,” the TSA official said in a statement.
The official added that the administration is pleased King thinks the aviation security measures are a significant step forward.
When asked about the assertion that he had been offered a briefing, King stood by his earlier statements. A GOP aide said a White House official had informed King of a directive not to brief the House Homeland Security Committee about the refined aviation security screening procedures before the announcement.
In the earlier interview, King also accused Brennan of being a “control freak” and of damaging the administration’s credibility with Congress. He had kinder words for Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who he said should be given credit for implementing a new policy that requires a lot of work and coordination with the National Counterterrorism Center and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Officials at TSA briefed Democratic and Republican committee staff Friday afternoon about the details of the new airport security protocols after King issued a press release voicing his frustration about not being briefed. King said he strongly supports the new measures and views them as “a significant step forward.” His anger stems from what he views as the administration’s secrecy and reluctance to keep Congress informed about important security matters.
House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) shares at least some of King’s concern about the administration’s failure to coordinate with Congress on the new aviation-screening program.
“While this new policy is a step in the right direction, I hope to work with the White House on a more coordinated roll-out in the future,” Thompson said in a statement.
The Department of Homeland Security on Friday morning announced improvements to its terror-screening policy that will attempt to focus on specific threats, not just travelers’ point of origin or nationality.
The new policy revises security requirements imposed after the Christmas Day attempted bombing of a passenger jet en route to Detroit that targeted people from 14 countries known as terrorist hotbeds or safe havens. It expands the number of foreign travelers scrutinized for extra screening beyond those whose names appear on the U.S. terror watch list.
The changes came after a three-month review of intelligence lapses Obama ordered after the near tragedy on Christmas Day.
King said Brennan’s decision to withhold information about the new security steps from Congress is part of a pattern of secrecy. A similar experience occurred on Christmas Day, King said, when Brennan ordered DHS and TSA to cease communications with Congress regarding the botched attack on Northwest Flight 253.
“President Obama must take control of his homeland security staff and lift the iron curtain of secrecy that John Brennan has lowered between the administration and Congress,” King said in a press release issued Friday.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, did not respond to an inquiry.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) spent Friday meeting with Dutch officials at the Amsterdam airport from which suspected terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab embarked on Christmas Day. She was there to discuss international airport security, the final leg of an overseas trip that included visits at U.S. Central Command regional headquarters in Qatar and with American allies in Western Europe.
Collins’ spokesman Kevin Kelley said his boss was “informed” of the new security program and expects to receive a full briefing next week.
Like King and Thompson, Collins fully supports the new protocols, which she called “a more effective security strategy.”
“Applying a kind of blanket, ‘one-size-fits-all’ scrutiny to individuals based solely on their country of origin provides only limited additional security and helps terrorists avoid detection by using operatives from other countries to carry out their plots,” she said in a statement. “Intelligence-based security, appropriately implemented, also will give Americans a more nimble response system against terrorists and permit more resources to be targeted at high-risk individuals.”
To King, the new steps are a more common-sense approach that TSA should have been using since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“Anytime we can make more sophisticated use of our intelligence and more effective use of intercepts it makes the screening process much more meaningful,” he said. “There is no silver bullet. We need to have multiple layers in our defense against al-Qaeda, and having a coherent screening and intelligence system is an important part of that.”
After the administration implemented additional scrutiny and screening of all travelers from 14 countries of concern in the wake of the Christmas Day bombing attempt, some civil liberty activists argued that the new policy set a dangerous precedent by implementing what could amount to racial profiling in its counterterrorism fight.
King brushed any criticism about racial profiling aside as inaccurate and naïve.
“This is common sense,” he said. “…Liberals live in their own delusional world. The fact is we have an enemy who wants to kill us. Just like when the Ku Klux Klan goes after people, you don’t spent too much time screening African-Americans, and when the Black Liberation Army is coming after people, you don’t spend too much time screening whites.”
“We do not have to have across-the-board policies,” he said. “It’s just a fact that it is going to focus more on Muslims coming from certain countries.”
If the current threat assessment shows that al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups are trying to recruit Western women, King added, the screening metric would change to reflect that new intelligence.