[cryptome] James Clapper, on top of the secret empire

  • From: Eugen Leitl <eugen@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: cryptome@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 24 Oct 2013 14:09:12 +0200


James Clapper, on top of the secret empire

By David Ignatius, Thursday, October 24, 1:35 AM E-mail the writer

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence (DNI), is not your
sleek, button-down spy chief. The 72-year-old retired Air Force general has a
beatnik goatee, a tendency to speak in malapropisms and a cranky attitude
that he sometimes sums up with the phrase “I’m too old for this [expletive]!”

The structure of Clapper’s position overseeing the nation’s 16 intelligence
agencies has itself been a kind of bureaucratic nightmare. The post was
created in 2004 to reduce the turf wars within the intelligence community
that had prevented “connecting the dots” before Sept. 11, 2001. But although
the legislation promised to empower a real intelligence chief, it kept key
budget and management powers within the Pentagon — with the result that the
DNI initially added more layering and second-guessing than efficiency.

The log-rolling and infighting that produced the unwieldy DNI structure is
explained in a fascinating new book, “Blinking Red,” by Michael Allen, former
staff director of the House intelligence committee and now with Beacon Global
Strategies. He quotes former CIA director George Tenet describing the law as
“a mad rush to rearrange wiring diagrams in an attempt to be seen as doing
something.” Bob Gates, the White House’s first choice for DNI, refused
because he thought it was “doomed to fail.” Clapper himself warned that a
“feckless” DNI would make things worse.

But there are welcome signs that this jury-rigged structure may finally be
starting to work as the DNI responds to budget pressures and the scandals
surrounding National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. Clapper has
recently taken steps that forced the National Security Agency (NSA) to accept
greater transparency and stopped the military agencies from wasteful spending
on duplicative satellite imagery.

Clapper is using management powers that were muddled under the confusing 2004
law. Rather than look over the shoulders of his 16 client agencies, as
previous DNIs tended to do, Clapper has instead pushed more collaboration —
something that’s easy to talk about but hard to do in an intelligence culture
that rewards protection of secrets. The intelligence community is still way
too big and turf-conscious, and it combines the worst features of bureaucracy
and secrecy. But at least someone is trying to manage this secret empire.

One example is Clapper’s pressure on the NSA to disclose more about its
surveillance programs. The NSA initially wanted to “redact” (a fancy word for
censor) far more of a 2011 ruling by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Court that the agency had engaged in illegally broad surveillance. Clapper
thought NSA lawyers were suppressing too much, so he instructed his general
counsel, Robert Litt, to go back through the document and make public more
information. Clapper ignored NSA and Justice Department protests, including
to the White House, and backed Litt’s less-redacted version.

Another example involved the intelligence community’s purchase of commercial
overhead imagery. The United States was paying two companies, GeoEye and
Digital Globe, for duplicative coverage. Clapper backed a Pentagon effort to
end the GeoEye contract, saving the government millions. Clapper has also
tried to streamline the wildly expensive classified spy-satellite programs,
trying (not always successfully) to avoid attempting too much with each

Clapper also used his budget authority to reduce the impact of sequestration.
He refused to furlough most people involved in the so-called national
intelligence program, and (unsuccessfully) pushed the Pentagon not to
furlough its employees involved in the military intelligence program.

The White House has generally deferred to Clapper, letting him broker deals
within the intelligence community rather than try to impose its own
management. On redaction of NSA documents, for example, the White House left
most decisions with Clapper.

Rep. Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican who chairs the House intelligence
committee, says he thinks the DNI structure under Clapper is “vastly
improved” from where it was a few years ago, including “much better” fusion
of intelligence in the president’s daily brief.

Rogers said he also supports Clapper’s efforts to disclose more information
about NSA programs where that’s possible without damaging security. “We’ve
got to have some confidence-builders and show the public that these programs
are as transparent as they can get while still being effective.”

Back when the DNI legislation was being drafted, Clapper argued at a 2004
lunch with Donald Rumsfeld, then secretary of defense, that the country
needed a strong position that would be the equivalent of secretary of
intelligence. Allen writes that Rumsfeld “slammed his fork into his plate”
and said it would be a “terrible idea.” By seeking consensus rather than
issuing directives, Clapper is beginning to figure out a way to make the
fuzzy DNI structure work after all.

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