Testing the waters yesterday, White House sources leaked to Reuters and the Associated Press that President Obama plans to nominate retired Army Major General Robert A. Harding to be the Administrator of the TSA.
Harding’s 30-year career as an army officer was spent moving up through the military “intelligence” ranks, culminating as “DoD’s senior HUMINT [human intelligence] officer.” In other words, he was the U.S. military’s most senior spymaster. Following his retirement out the military-industrial revolving door (through which he would return if confirmed to head the TSA), he double-dipped by founding a military consulting and contracting company which he sold last year to private equity investors. “Harding Security Associates provides identity intelligence and other security services to the federal government, including doing work for the Department of Defense’s biometric-identification analysis and forensics.”
Many of the TSA’s practical problems and abuses of civil liberties have involved schemes like CAPPS-II (later Secure Flight) that were dreamed up by the NSA and other military intelligence agencies and “experts” unaccustomed to operating within the civilian, domestic U.S. legal regime and ignorant of transportation industry technical infrastructure and business practices. Harding’s autobiography gives no indication that he has any experience whatsoever with civilian or domestic civil liberties, with legal constraints on “intelligence gathering” (spying and surveillance) on civilians or U.S. persons or within the U.S., or with the transportation industry.
If Harding is nominated to head the TSA, his military background and lack of any track record on civilian civil liberties makes it especially critical for Senators to question him closely (we have some suggestions to start that questioning) about his views on the fundamental civil liberties and human rights issues facing the TSA, before any confirmation vote, and to resist any calls for an abbreviated or rushed review of his suitability for the position.