Donald Trump has been gutting departments of longtime governmental employees. That has left the remaining people stretched too thin to compensate for the unfilled positions. Now, a CNN employee discovered highly sensitive documents about the Super Bowl where they should not be.
The documents originated in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and were marked “For Official Use Only” and “important for national security.” The information was “an operational need-to-know.”
The CNN employee found the documents and additional “sensitive DHS material” left in the seat pocket of a commercial airliner. The program documents involved simulated anthrax drills to prepare DHS for Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis. Apparently, the scientist manning the BioWatch program, which falls under the DHS, was responsible for them.
DHS spokesperson, Tyler Houlton said:
‘This exercise was a resounding success and was not conducted in response to any specific, credible threat of a bioterrorism attack.’
The Secretary of DHS, Kirstjen Nielsen, took over the department after Donald Trump tapped the former secretary, John Kelly, to serve as the president’s chief of staff. According to the DHS webpage:
‘Homeland Security oversees the third largest Cabinet department and leads our nation’s efforts to secure our country from terrorism to natural disasters.’
Former DHS official and current CNN contributor, Juliette Kayyem said this was not a surprise, because of departmental deficiencies. These exercises are supposed to expose problems in planning and preparedness. Then according to CNN, DHS authorities said government agencies:
‘…are better equipped if something bad were to happen.’
Kayyem added that losing the documents was “a really stupid thing:”
‘Who knows who else could have picked this up. The biggest consequence of this mistake may have less to do with terrorists knowing our vulnerabilities and more to do with confidence in the Department of Homeland Security. In the end, confidence in the federal government at a time of crisis is what the American public deserves.’
The documents noted the confusion “among local health agencies” about the exercise alerts. The documents said:
‘(This) made it difficult for them to assess whether their city was at risk (and) creates a situation where local officials are deciding on courses of action from limited points of view.’
CNN had not yet definitively found who left the documents on the plane. The packet included a boarding pass and travel itinerary of someone called Michael V. Walter. He has been a microbiologist and program manager of BioWatch, beginning in 2009. CNN reported that his profile stated:
‘I am responsible for developing and operating a budget that has ranged up to 90 million dollars and directed a staff or more than 50 members.’
A DHS official said the issue was under “operational review” and:
‘DHS does not comment on personnel matters or potential pending personnel action.’
The BioWatch program has been under fire since it began in 2003 with questions about its effectiveness and expense. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s oversight subcommittee released a memo in 2013 stating:
‘After more than a decade of operation, DHS still lacks crucial data demonstrating the effectiveness of the current technology. Several statements by DHS about the performance of the BioWatch program are disputed by other government scientists or contradicted by information obtained in this investigation.’
An agency official told CNN:
‘Biodetection is one aspect of a layered approach to biodefense. DHS continues to develop requirements and field enhancements to our national biodefense.’
Featured Image via Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla.