DHS installs new leadership at its intelligence arm

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The Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence arm is getting new leadership.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced Friday morning that John Cohen, the department’s top counterterrorism official, will take the helm at DHS’ Office of Intelligence and Analysis in addition to his current role. POLITICO obtained the announcement Mayorkas sent to the department.

Mayorkas’ email says Cohen’s title will be senior official performing the duties of undersecretary of Intelligence and Analysis, meaning he will not be formally nominated for the role, which would have required Senate confirmation.

The move comes at a complicated moment for the intelligence shop, which faces bruising morale problems. In the final year of the Trump administration, it drew significant national attention for a series of scandals, including efforts to monitor protesters in Portland, Ore., and national journalists. The scandals marred the Trump administration and led to the departure of the office’s chief.

Before those scandals emerged, Trump administration officials curtailed the ability of DHS’ Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to oversee some of the intelligence office’s work. Under the Trump administration, officials also shut down a unit within the office focused on combating domestic terrorism.

Cohen, who has more than 30 years of experience in law enforcement and national security, previously helped run the office under the Obama administration.

Mayorkas brought him back to DHS, where he has focused on the department’s efforts to combat domestic terrorism. Earlier this year, DHS stood up a new team in the intelligence office to focus on that specific threat. And late last month, Cohen told members of Congress in a closed-door briefing that the department was concerned about the spread of the conspiracy that Trump will be reinstated as president in August.

Mayorkas’ letter also announced that Samantha Vinograd, currently the department’s senior counselor for national security, will become acting assistant secretary for counterterrorism and threat prevention in the Office of Strategy, Policy and Plans.

The announcement said Vinograd previously worked in government for nearly a decade, including as director for Iraq on the Obama administration’s National Security Council. More recently, she worked at Goldman Sachs and Stripe. She also provided on-air national security commentary for CNN.

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