WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security should redefine its mission as it moves away from strictly combating terrorism, experts at the Aspen Institute say.
Before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, representatives from the think tank’s homeland security group told lawmakers the agency should narrow its efforts to what a new Aspen report calls “more specific homeward-focused areas.”
The Colorado-based institute wants Homeland Security to pursue more collaborative relationships, whether they be between federal and local agencies, or public and private companies.
For instance, the report suggests intelligence agents could consult stateside with mass transit officials policy when there is an attack on a transportation system abroad.
The Intelligence panel usually convenes in private but decided on an open hearing Wednesday to review the Aspen report.
Titled “Homeland Security and Intelligence: Next Steps in Evolving the Mission,” the the six-page report asks lawmakers to “step back and review” the cabinet department assembled in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Institute spokesmen at the hearing said it has already been checked out by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and other intelligence officers.
“The creation of DHS led to a rapid growth in workforce, and a thirst for analytic product, that required the US Government to move quickly, before the foundations of homeland security intelligence were established, and before we had the luxury of a full post-9/11 decade to understand where we need to go,” the report reads.
Philip Mudd, an Aspen member and the FBI’s former director of national security, told lawmakers they need to examine the DHS mission “across the board in fundamentally different ways.”
“Until we stop looking at this problem through the lens of past structures, we fail,” Mudd said. “Forget about the Beltway … Forget about collecting information overseas. And in some way, forget above even collecting secret intelligence.” Instead, he recommended looking to domestic groups that already offer a wealth of information on intelligence issues.
In a statement, Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., acknowledged the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis “historically has suffered from a lack of focus in its mission,” partly due to unclear or overlapping authority in the intelligence community.
The Aspen panel agreed the department could benefit from a sharper emphasis on goals, especially when it comes to its place in the broader intelligence community.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., pressed the three Aspen witnesses about whether the agency transforming would cause conflict with other intelligence-gathering agencies, including the FBI or the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Juan Zarate, an Aspen expert and former deputy national security adviser, replied that an “element of overlap and competitiveness” will always exist.
“The day there’s no friction among federal agencies will be a remarkable day,” Zarate replied. “There’s always friction.”