By Chris Strohm
January 27, 2010
The National Counterterrorism Center does not have enough analysts to comb through the thousands of pieces of terrorism-related information it receives every day, even though a plan to cut millions of dollars from its budget has been reversed, NCTC Director Michael Leiter told House lawmakers on Wednesday.
The hearing was held to review government failures associated with a botched attempt to blow up Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas near Detroit.
The failed bombing has thrust under the microscope the government's ability to connect disparate pieces of intelligence and prompted lawmakers to press the Obama administration to place more people on terrorist watch lists.
Though lawmakers want the lists expanded, the NCTC is short on analysts and personnel who are qualified to carry out watch listing activities, Leiter told the House Homeland Security Committee.
Ironically, only days before the Christmas incident, Leiter was notified that 20 percent of the center's budget for analysts and watch listing operations would be cut.
"Those initial cuts have now been canceled for us," Leiter said, adding that the reversal is "a silver lining" amid the fallout from the failed bombing attack.
Leiter did not say whether the administration's fiscal 2011 budget request will include more money for analysts, saying only that he was in discussions with Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and OMB. The NCTC director said he was not trying to enlarge his turf but rather to ensure there are enough personnel to carry out the center's work.
Funding for the center was to be reduced based on cuts made by Congress in an enacted fiscal 2010 appropriations bill, a spokesman for Blair said. It was determined after the bombing attempt that the center would be exempt while other elements under the office of the DNI would absorb a larger share of cuts, the spokesman added.
Each day, the NCTC receives more than 5,000 pieces of terrorist-related information and reviews 5,000 names of suspected terrorists, Leiter said.
Democrats and Republicans on the Homeland Security Committee also said they were upset that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano did not appear to testify Wednesday.
Napolitano originally was scheduled to be out of town and the department and committee agreed to have the department's deputy secretary testify. But Napolitano's schedule changed and she remained in Washington.
"It's probably fair to ask where the hell is Secretary Napolitano for this hearing," Rep. Chris Carney, D-Pa., said. "She was invited. She needs to be here to address something of this magnitude."
Asked for a response, a Homeland Security spokeswoman said, "It's unfortunate that these members have chosen to raise this today. This witness was agreed upon two weeks ago, and no concerns were raised in the multiple conversations and briefings that the secretary, deputy secretary and other staff have had with members and staff since then."
The spokeswoman added that Napolitano "is ready and willing to appear before Congress, as evidenced by her two testimonies last week and four additional hearings at which she will appear in early February."
On a related front, several Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder Wednesday demanding answers about the decision to give Miranda rights to the suspect in the Christmas bombing attempt.
By Chris Strohm
January 27, 2010