It’s fascinating to see the how various news and blogosphere outlets have responded to the resignation of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. The names being talked about as her successor have been some of the anticipated suspects, as well as a few surprises. Probably the biggest surprise for me is all of the eager talk about the NYPD’s Ray Kelly and former DHS Deputy Secretary Jane Hall Lute.
In terms of Ray Kelly, he’s got all of the qualifications for the job, and then some. He’s a retired officer in the U.S. Marine Corps; a former U.S. Treasury Under Secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence; and has been the longest serving (and the most successful) Police Commissioner in the NYPD’s history.
US Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) – in classic NYC style – even came up with her own Top 10 list of the reasons he’s the obvious choice. Additionally, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had a press release out the door pushing Kelly for the position before most media outlets had even reported Napolitano had resigned.
Kelly has tremendous capital in his public bank account making him well-suited for one of the toughest jobs in the world, but I don’t think that makes for the easiest of sails for a potential confirmation hearing.
While leading the NYPD every day of the nearly dozen-year tenure of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Kelly has built one of the largest intelligence agencies in the world, all within the NYPD. That intelligence agency is linked around the planet, and as a result, it has helped the “city that never sleeps” from experiencing another successful terror attack. For every off the chart plus factor this intelligence network has contributed towards securing NYC, however, in a post-Edward Snowden revelation era, the operations of intelligence agencies doing anything domestically is not as popular or accepted as it was before. Senators who were once quick to grant authorities to federal, state, and local law enforcement, as well as intelligence agencies and their fusion center counterparts, are now a whole lot more leery of those authorities and operations. Questioning of those methods and actions could get real interesting in a confirmation hearing.
So could the Kelly-imposed practices of “Stop and Frisk,” which have stirred up a lot of controversy from day one. Senators have been more-than-vocal about their own less-than-positive experiences being groped by TSA agents. How are they going to treat the guy who has come up with a practice that empowers police officers to “stop and frisk” someone they think is suspicious? Is this an operating practice that, like “See Something, Say Something,” should go nationwide? With all of the heightened passions on racial and cultural profiling, let alone civil liberties infringements, this line of questioning in a confirmation hearing will have a lot of potential fireworks if Kelly is nominated.
And then there was Kelly’s September 25, 2011 interview with 60 Minutes. While the profile interview was absolutely laudatory (especially when you consider the history of what 60 Minutes has done to some people’s lives and careers), Kelly offered some eye-raising comments about the NYPD’s means to take down an aircraft attempting to replicate the 9/11 style of attacks. In the ensuing days after the interview, Kelly and the NYPD basically walked his comments back, but words like that are not easily forgotten.
Kelly is sharp, articulate and certainly accomplished, but I don’t think his confirmation hearings will be the cake walk others are cheering them to be. He’s got an impressive record that bears consideration, but so do the points that seem to have been overlooked in the overzealous zeal to put him at DHS headquarters.
While I’m surprised at how quickly people have catapulted Kelly to the absolute top of the prospective DHS Secretary nominees, I am even more surprised at seeing the name of former DHS Deputy Secretary Jane Hall Lute ranked so high on the DHS Secretary-in-waiting list. Beside the fact she left the department in May of this year, her tenure at DHS was not without its own fireworks. While DHS leaders are not put in place to be loved or to generate warm fuzzies by those they are assigned to lead, I’ve yet to find anyone who had anything warm to say about her tenure. The nicest thing I’ve heard anyone say about her comes from a senior person still at the Department – “She’s gone.”
Lute was a surprise pick by many homeland security watchers in the first place when she was nominated to be Deputy Secretary in early 2009. Her background with the United Nations, as well as the U.S. Army, was not at all what most people were expecting for the number two slot at DHS, especially after having a seasoned manager like Paul Schneider, who served as the preceding Deputy Secretary and was bringing order to the often chaotic DHS organization.
Most people (including yours truly) thought Rand Beers would be the Deputy Secretary from day one of the Obama Administration, but that didn’t happen. Despite Lute getting the full-fledged job and the official title, Beers, for all intents and purposes, played a Deputy Secretary type of role for Napolitano, given his service as her closest advisor on almost anything and everything that crossed her desk.
There were also plenty of rumors about Lute’s temperament. In an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum in 2010, which I attended, Lute lost all sense of cool when she was challenged by then-Newsweek reporter Michael Isiskoff and audience members over comments she made about the U.S. southern border having “never been more secure.” One person in the audience even audibly murmured, “Are you delusional?” while Isikoff explained he was “baffled” by her response. (I wrote about Lute’s appearance and performance shortly after coming back.)
This was my first in-person impression of her, and I have to say it was not at all favorable. I wasn’t alone in that observation either. Attendees at the 2010 Aspen program were truly stunned by her demeanor, evidenced by questions from CNN’s Jeanne Meserve (who was interviewing her) as well as the audience. What has really stayed with me for three years now was her near-sneering response to a question, saying “The Secretary has been very clear on what those metrics are.”
Lute’s 2010 Aspen appearance was probably the worst I’ve ever seen of a principal in any public forum. It’s true that anyone can lose their cool in pressure situations, especially when being challenged by media or audience members, but for me, Lute did not deliver any sense of confidence that she had the demeanor for the demands of the top position. The Aspen Security Forum is about the most hospitable of environments for anyone to present or debate any subject, but it was more than evident that then-Dep. Sec Lute had no tolerance for any fair question posed to her.
If that’s the way you’re going to act in a forum with the public, reporters and a TV camera rolling, I can only imagine what you’re like when they aren’t around. It’s for those reasons that I am truly baffled she’s on anyone’s list for DHS Secretary and firmly believe former DHS colleagues when they say how happy they are that she’s gone from the Department. I can only imagine how they would feel if she returns to them in the top seat.