On the Prowl

On the Prowl

From the February 2010 issue

Janet Jitters

According to former Obama transition team members, the selection of Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to serve as Secretary of Homeland Security was one of the more contentious choices that the newly elected president had to make.

"At the time, I recall that illegal immigration was thought to be a potential big issue coming down the pike, and that Napolitano would be someone with the background to shift DHS's mission away from terrorism to more domestic security issues," says a former transition team member. "And she met certain diversity requirements the president-elect set forth."

Napolitano's seeming lack of foreign affairs and national security background, and her apparent inability to step up to internal administration political challenges, are now being blamed, in part, for the fallout from the failed Christmas Day attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight, which exposed weaknesses in both DHS's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Obama administration's intelligence agencies.

"We've had unfilled positions at DHS for months, and Napolitano has not been a strong advocate to fill those slots," says the former transition team member. "You get the sense she's just happy to be here."

At press time, there were growing calls for Napolitano to resign, and in the face of those calls, she announced she and other senior DHS officials were embarking on a global listening tour to set new, cooperative airport security measures.

GOP Brown Out

The campaign of Massachusetts Republican U.S. Senate candidate Scott Brown again put the spotlight on the role national Republican political organizations -- specifically, the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the National Republican Congressional Committee -- play in the electoral process.

Massachusetts Republican Party officials are claiming that Brown, who challenged the Democratic nominee, Attorney General Martha Coakley, in the January 19 special election to fill the late Ted Kennedy's seat, received almost no support from the national party infrastructure.

Sources inside the RNC and NRSC say that because polling showed that Brown had next to no chance of winning, the party did not invest in the race. But conservatives and Republican Party operatives who don't have ties to either the RNC or NRSC say that the lack of support had less to do with Brown's polling, and more to do with the fact that Brown was not either organization's first choice to challenge for the seat.

"If the NRSC doesn't get the man or woman they want to run, they take their marbles and go home and sulk," says one Republican political consultant. "And if they get their candidate, they do what they can to destroy any other Republican who dares to challenge them."

As an example, most consultants point to the Florida Senate race, where the NRSC recruited Gov. Charlie Crist to run to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Mel Martinez. Crist is at best a moderate Republican, but one who has a strong fundraising network across the state.

"The Crist decision was all about easing fundraising pressure from the NRSC and RNC and getting a candidate who could run without a huge investment from the NRSC to get the campaign off the ground," says the consultant. "It had nothing to do with whether Crist was the best Republican for the job." At one point, as Crist's primary challenger, Marco Rubio, gained in the polls, anti-Rubio videos started appearing online, backed by staff for the NRSC. Those ads were pulled after outcries from grassroots conservatives.

Sen. John Cornyn, who is chairing the NRSC for this election cycle, has taken heat for essentially endorsing Crist, and has since pulled the committee back from endorsing candidates as quickly as it has. This is largely due to the pressure placed on the NRSC by Sen. Jim DeMint, who has taken to endorsing and supporting conservative Republican candidates, sometimes pitting his candidate against the NRSC.

The RNC situation, say political consultants, is far more complicated. While national fundraising has been good, there continues to be a steady stream of disenchanted chatter about national chairman Michael Steele, who has inserted himself into a number of political and policy debates on Capitol Hill, and been a regular face and voice on cable TV and talk radio.

"It isn't the attention that he seeks, it's that there is this nagging suspicion that the RNC isn't being run as effectively as it should be," says another political consultant, who is under contract to the RNC. "We're raising good money, but you wonder if it's being spent effectively to prepare for the coming two election cycles."

Panetta Dread

On December 30, seven CIA employees and/or contractors were murdered by a suicide bomber, who was allowed to enter Forward Operating Base Chapman, a U.S. compound in the Afghan province of Khost near the Pakistan border. The facility is said by intelligence sources to be a launching point for covert activities against the Taliban, as well as al Qaeda.

The terrorist attack, which served as the second-largest loss of life of CIA assets in the agency's history, will no doubt further erode the CIA employees' confidence in CIA director Leon Panetta. "He wasn't a popular pick when he came in, and he's less popular now than was he was then," says a current CIA employee. "On a level of one to ten, I'd put morale at about a four, and dropping."

Panetta, according to other intelligence agency staffers, has, in the view of employees, failed to back them up in the ongoing war of words over use of enhanced interrogation techniques, in hearings before Congress, and with the powers that be in the White House that seem dismissive of the agency.

"The fact that we are being hung out to dry on the failed [Christmas Day] terrorist attack is just the latest issue we've had to deal with," says the source. "Isn't it funny that for about six or so years, no major terrorist attacks, lots of information sharing, and then we get a new administration and new orders and new ways of doing business and it's all our fault. And we have a boss who probably will just let us take the fall."

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