DHS’ Contempt of Congress and Constitution

Homeland Security Newswire reports:

Last week, DHS officials chastised Representative Jason Chaffetz (R – Utah) for disclosing sensitive security information to the press.

In a letter, Joseph Maher, DHS’s deputy counsel, scolded Chaffetz, the chair of the House Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense, and Foreign Operations, for openly discussing “sensitive security information” provided by the Transportation Security Administration(TSA). Maher wrote, “This document was marked as [Sensitive Security Information] and provided clear notice that unauthorized disclosures of the document violated federal law.”

The letter comes in response to Chaffetz’s comments last week that revealed that there have been more than 25,000 security breaches at U.S. airports since November 2001.

Take out your Constitutions, kids. There, in Article I, you’ll see the words that create the Congress and establish its authorities. Now go look for the language that authorizes a sprawling executive branch with agencies like the Department of Homeland Security. Enough searching will suggest to you that the DHS is a subordinate of Congress. It exists by the grace (and/or mistake) of the legislative branch of the government.

You’ll also see the Speech or Debate Clause, which bars Members of Congress from being “questioned in any other Place” for anything they say in Congress. The clause exists to insulate Members of Congress from outside authority trying to influence their deliberations—outside authorities like DHS deputy counsel Joseph Maher.

Did Representative Chaffetz reveal SSI, or “sensitive security information”? So what? In my experience, that’s a designation that DHS officials throw around cheaply and easily. Here, it’s being used more to hide the agency’s failings than to protect the public.

Representative Chaffetz is entirely correct to air publicly the failings of the TSA. The more aware we are of the government’s security fakery, the more sensible will be our estimate of risks to airline security and how to respond to them.