Publicized intelligence briefing riles Homeland Security officials

Some Homeland Security Department officials are upset at Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., after Smith publicly announced an upcoming classified meeting to talk about security grant allocations, a department official said Wednesday.

Smith issued a press release earlier this week announcing that he has "locked in" a Thursday meeting with senior department officials to discuss intelligence and data used as the basis for issuing grants for urban areas in 2005 under a department initiative.

Smith said he scheduled the meeting after learning New Jersey's allocation would be cut 40 percent despite its proximity to New York City, which would get an approximately 300 percent increase, an aide said.

"As soon as it became clear that New Jersey's threat-based grants from Homeland Security were in question, I contacted Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson," Smith said. "He promised me he would facilitate a classified briefing."

Expected to join Hutchinson at the meeting is Sue Mencer, director of the Office of Domestic Preparedness, which manages the grant program. Officials from the department's Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection directorate also are to attend, Smith's office said. Smith also invited all members of the New Jersey delegation to attend, as well as Acting Governor Richard Codey and his counterterrorism chief.

But the Homeland Security Department source said reaction within the agency has been strong because such an announcement could draw heightened scrutiny on Capitol Hill and in the media to shared intelligence. Grant allocations were hotly debated in the last Congress and are expected to come up again in this Congress, although much of that debate has focused on a different, formula-based program.

The program that Smith has targeted, the Urban Areas Security Initiative, is threat-based. "This will hold the intelligence community back from going up for meetings," the official said. "It spooks the briefers, and puts everybody in a bad position. This is amateur hour at best."He said while department officials regularly hold classified meetings with members of Congress, they are conducted quietly.

Smith's aide defended the decision, saying the issue has gotten "intense media interest" in New Jersey. As the "dean" of the state's delegation, Smith is expected to arrange such meetings and "felt he should be open about it," the aide said.

"We're not springing this on them. We told [the department] there would be press availability after the meeting," he said. "There shouldn't be any surprise."

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