Last Friday, retired Army Major General Robert A. Harding withdrew his nomination to serve as the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) after a week of intense questioning from senators.
Robert Harding spent his life in the military, serving at the highest levels of military intelligence. He was the U.S. Army’s deputy G2 for intelligence and the director for operations at the Defense Intelligence Agency. He also served as the Department of Defense’s senior Human Intelligence (HUMINT) officer. After 33 years of military service, Harding retired in 2001.
In 2003, he founded a defense and intelligence contracting company based in Virginia called Harding Security Associates. Almost immediately, the retired major general began securing lucrative defense contracts in a post-9/11 world.
Harding Security Associates provided private security at the White House. It provided consulting services for the Department of Homeland Security, including a contract with the TSA. But when it was awarded a $6 million contract with the Defense Intelligence Agency — in an office Harding was formerly affiliated with — the suspicious contract was subsequently the subject of a federal audit.
While not quite passing the smell test for many TSA-nominee watchers, Harding technically had done no wrong, and confirmation hearings continued following the revelation. However, senators soon learned that Harding’s company had overbilled the Pentagon by $1.8 million on one contract. The company had already agreed to pay the money back, but the ice around the military-man-turned-defense-contractor grew thin.
Senators wanted to know: What had the taxpayers been overbilled for? It turned out the $1.8 million became severance payments made to 40 employees — all of whom had worked as interrogators at Abu Ghraib.