Obama nominates African-American to head the TSA

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama said he wants a former senior Army official with a career in intelligence to lead the Transportation Security Administration.

The president announced his choice, retired Maj. Gen. Robert Harding, on Monday.

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The decision to appoint someone with an extensive intelligence background comes after the attempted Christmas airliner attack. That attempt, foiled by passengers, led to scrutiny of government intelligence programs and criticism that the Obama administration wasn’t doing enough to foil would-be terrorists. The incident prompted a review of U.S. security policies.

“I am confident that Bob’s talent and expertise will make him a tremendous asset in our ongoing efforts to bolster security and screening measures at our airports,” Obama said in a statement.

Harding served in the Army for 33 years and retired in 2001. He has been the Defense Department’s top human intelligence officer and managed a $1 billion intelligence collection program. Between 2003 and 2009, Harding was a government consultant on human intelligence and counterintelligence issues. He sold his company in 2009, according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Obama’s original pick for the TSA job, Erroll Southers, withdrew from consideration in January when it became clear he would face a tough confirmation battle in the Senate.

The president has been criticized for leaving the TSA job open for so long. It took him eight months to nominate Southers.

Southers’ confirmation had been blocked by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. The senator said he was worried that Southers would grant collective bargaining rights to transportation security screeners, which Obama favors and Republicans oppose.

On Monday, DeMint said he looks forward to meeting with Harding.

“He’s had a distinguished career in the Army and I’m interested to hear how his military experience would inform his leadership of our nation’s transportation security,” DeMint said.

Harding would be the fifth man to run the Transportation Security Administration, which was formed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.