Earlier this week President Obama nominated retired U.S. Army Major General Robert Harding the permanent position of TSA Administrator. At first glance General Harding is an idea candidate for the TSA Administrator position. Harding spent more than 30 years of his career in military intelligence, including the Defense Intelligence Agency‘s Director of Operations, Deputy Intelligence Chief for the U.S. Army and was the Department of Defense’s senior Human Intelligence Officer. Upon retiring from the Army, Harding founded Harding Security Associates, a firm that provides identity intelligence to government agencies, as well as the Department of Defense’s biometric identification analysis and forensics programs.
This all sounds like a great match for a TSA Administrator … except for one glaring fact… the primary job carried out by General Harding was essentially that of a high ranking military spy, who’s experience may not translate well into the commercial aviation sector. Two important factors are missing from Hardin’s resume to assume the role of Permanent TSA Administrator.
General Harding has no law enforcement background. While the primary function of the TSA is not law enforcement, it is security, the agency’s role does include substantial law enforcement and public interaction.
In addition to a lack of law enforcement experience, General Harding has no airport or transportation experience. Aviation and transportation security is complex, so lacking both law enforcement and airport security experience may be critical issues for Harding.
Approximately 92% of TSA funding is for aviation security and aviation law enforcement … which comes back to my original concern of the stellar credentials of General Harding.
While Harding may be one of the foremost intelligence operatives in the world, does he have the knowledge and experience to direct an agency that is not an intelligence agency? The TSA, while possessing intelligence operations, is a security agency. Intelligence for the TSA largely comes from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. The primary task of the TSA is not intelligence it is security plain and simple.
Can a man who is used to developing covert operations work in an agency than needs more transparency? Can a man who has spent his life as a spy transform the TSA from an agency that seemingly answers to no one into an agency that is accountable for its actions?
In the end the TSA needs a strong permanent leader who can inspire, innovate and create an agency that is effective and work with the industries in which it must exist.
Will General Harding be the sixth person to head the TSA since its formation in 2001? That is up to the Senate, but I’d personally like to see a nominee with experience in the field they’ll not only be entering … but leading and innovating for the future as well.