The Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence office is stretched too thin and needs to have priorities for where to focus resources, a former head of the agency told a Senate panel on Tuesday.
Responding to a question from Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) about whether the Biden administration is focused on the threat posed by Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs), Francis Taylor said it is but that the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) can’t meet all the demands of its customers.
“One of the challenges at I&A, there’s 700 people in the entire organization,” said Taylor, who led the office during the last few years of the Obama administration. “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 too. And one of the things I think we should focus on is where should those priorities come from. Where should those investments be made in resources?”
Portman, the ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Taylor made a “good point.” He also said that TCOs are a “growing” threat and are “working” their “tentacles into our communities,” pointing out their involvement om drug trafficking, violence, human smuggling, child exploitation and other criminal activities.
Portman said in his prepared remarks at the start of the committee’s hearing to examine the role of the Office of I&A that “TCOs are increasingly present here in this country. They’re always evolving, always adapting to maximize their profits,” and he added, that I&A has a role to play in “combatting” the TCOs.
The committee will soon release its own report on the domestic extremist attack on the U.S. Capital in January and Portman said the investigation shows I&A and other agencies “fell short in reporting on the potential threat.” The former acting under secretary of I&A “revealed weaknesses in how I&A distributes information, collects intelligence from social media platforms and leverages its relationship with state, local, tribal and territorial and private sector partners to learn of new evolving threats,” Portman said.
The Office of I&A is the only U.S. intelligence agency chartered to provide intelligence help to state, local, tribal and territorial governments and the private sector, Taylor pointed out in his written statement. He also said that there is a two-way flow of intelligence between DHS and local law enforcement.
When it comes to domestic violent extremism, Taylor said that local law enforcement agencies are where “much of the work” is done against these extremists. He said that I&A’s intelligence officers working in state and local fusion centers are in a position to process and analyze the information being generated at the 18,000 police departments across the U.S. to provide “national level” reporting on the trends, tactics and techniques of domestic violent extremists.