Key Security Agencies Lack Permanent Leaders
U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement on health care and climate change at the White House in Washington December 19, 2009. (AP Photo)
The AP via YellowBrix
December 29, 2009
WASHINGTON – Two federal agencies charged with keeping potential terrorists off airplanes and out of the country have been without their top leaders for nearly a year.
It took the Obama administration more than eight months to nominate anyone to lead the Transportation Security Administration and the Customs and Border Protection agency.
President Barack Obama has ordered a review of U.S. security policies following the failed Christmas Day attack on a Detroit-bound flight from Amsterdam. He vowed Monday to “do everything that we can to keep America safe.”
The acting heads of the TSA and CBP — both created in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — will be at the forefront of these efforts.
Bogged down with health care reform, the Senate has yet to set a date to hold hearings for the Customs position. And Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., has placed a hold on the president’s choice to head the TSA over the senator’s concern that the new leader would let TSA screeners join a labor union. This has some Democrats blaming politics for the vacancy.
Former U.S. attorney Alan Bersin is nominated to run CBP, and former FBI agent and police detective Erroll Southers is the president’s pick for TSA.
On Christmas Day, alleged terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian who spent time in Yemen, was able to sneak an explosive device aboard his flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, only to be thwarted by the device’s apparent failure to work as designed, and aggressive action by other passengers.
Abdulmutallab was not on the government’s terrorist watch list — though he was on a less sensitive and broader database. He was able to maintain a valid U.S. visa despite warnings about him to U.S. embassy officials in Nigeria from his father. Those facts are prompting a broad review of the government’s terrorist detection efforts.
“The United States will more than simply strengthen our defenses,” Obama said Monday. “We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us.”
“The president is looking for answers on this,” Denis McDonough, chief of staff of the White House National Security Council, told reporters Monday in Hawaii, where President Barack Obama is vacationing. McDonough said officials have begun to assemble information related to watch list procedures. As yet, no one has been named to oversee the watch list review, he said.