The temporary head of the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence division, John Cohen, is stepping down this month as President Joe Biden’s appointee awaits confirmation, according to an internal memo sent to the workforce and obtained by CNN.
Cohen assumed the role last July after a series of controversies embroiled the office during the Trump administration, including coming under scrutiny for not producing a bulletin or warning about the potential for violence at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Under Cohen’s leadership, the intelligence office has been trying to revamp its stature, putting more emphasis on analyzing online threats of violence and working to revive its state and local partner relationships.
The DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis also created an intelligence gathering unit to monitor the movement of migrants journeying to the US southern border and help inform law enforcement activities.
“I am writing to inform you that I will be leaving the Department effective April 8, 2022 in part so I can better attend to long-standing medical issues involving a member of my family,” Cohen said in his memo. “Returning to the federal government on January 20, 2021 was a great honor. It has been among the greatest privileges of my career to work with all of you.”
Melissa Smislova, a career official, will helm the agency on a temporary basis, which she has previously done, according to a source familiar with the situation.
In a memo to the Intelligence and Analysis workforce, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas commended Cohen for being “one of our nation’s foremost national security experts.”
Cohen is expected to start a new private center focused on combating disinformation by foreign intelligence services, terrorist groups, and criminal organizations, the source said.
Late last year, Biden nominated attorney and former Bush administration appointee Kenneth Wainstein to lead the DHS intelligence division. Wainstein served in federal government for years, including as a former assistant attorney general and chief of staff to former FBI Director Robert Mueller.
If confirmed, Wainstein will become the top intelligence official at DHS, taking the helm as Under Secretary of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis.
During the final year of the Trump administration, the Intelligence and Analysis Office became entangled in a series of public controversies, starting with a revelation that the office compiled “intelligence reports” about the work of two US journalists covering protests in Portland, Oregon, in 2020.
An internal review, released last fall, found that insufficient supervision, improper collection tradecraft and the deployment of “untrained, inexperienced” collectors to Portland was in part to blame for the issues at the time.
There was also a leadership shakeup, a scathing whistleblower report and accusations of retaliation.
The office has not had a Senate-confirmed leader since David Glawe’s departure in May 2020.