I’m amused, perhaps bemused, by some of the editorials by the mainstream media about the nomination of Jim Clapper, former NGA chief and now Undersecretary for Defense, Intelligence at the Pentagon for the job of Director National Intelligence (DNI). The comments by pundits range from asking Obama to reconsider the nomination for fear that he’s not in touch with the current bureaucratic mess that the DNI’s job calls to oversee (Ruth Marcus, syndicated columnist), or that the Obama administration could find no one else to do the job (emptywheel, June 20).
I don’t know Jim Clapper but I’ve sat in on enough presentations and press briefings with him and spoken to him face to face. I don’t even pretend to understand the workings of national intelligence (though this diagram is an interesting model) or the problems outlined in the recent Washington Post report entitled "Top Secret America" that elaborated on an out of control intelligence community. But from his work at the NGA and his ability to bring geospatial technology to bear on a problem that perhaps needs a good rethink, I would offer that Clapper just might be the person who can begin the process of turning a huge problem into a manageable problem. Clapper always impressed me as a person who just spoke in a straightforward manner without political speak, and perhaps that got him into some recent trouble. But just maybe, given his use of technology to solve intelligence problems, including geospatial information, Clapper can address the lack of coordination among the IC, which is just about all he can do given that he has no budgetary authority over the 16 agencies he is supposed to oversee. If nothing else, seeing the big picture is something Clapper did for NGA. To suggest that geospatial technology will solve even a small part of the DNI’s job may be a bit far fetched but if "seeing the big picture" is part of that job, then why not? I hope that GIS is part of the DNI’s arsenal and maybe Clapper’s experience at NGA will allow him to use it in some capacity. (See map of the nation’s intelligence agency locations)
Also interesting to me is the uphill battle he faces in his Congressional confirmation hearings that began on July 20. Neither the ranking Republican, Kit Bond (R, Missouri), or the committee chairman of the Senate Committee on Intelligence, Diane Feinstein (D, California), support his nomination.
Bond said that he has questions about whether Clapper could carry out the job of DNI that former DNI director Dennis Blair could not. Will you have the "horsepower needed in the White House" to change the roll of the DNI and get the ear of the president, and use the position "for reform as it is needed to be," asked Bond. "We need a DNI that can oversee our nation’s terror-fighting policies," said Bond, and expressed concern that the next DNI could also get things done without being "micro managed by the department of Justice or the National Security Council." "It is my hope that the next DNI will assert this much needed leadership over the intelligence community," said Bond. Bond commented that we need a DNI that can "throw some elbows and take back our intelligence agencies… [the DNI] must establish a clear chain of command between the CIA and the DNI."
Bond said that Clapper had expressed interest in retiring in the past but now seeks one of the hardest jobs in Washington. Bond asked, "Frankly, I ask you to tell us why?" And he went on to comment that the job needed someone who is "not reluctantly taking on the job but willing to take on the old guard."
Those complimentary to Clapper included Feinstein who said in the hearings, referring to Clapper, "He is one of the few national security officials to serve in both the Bush and Obama administrations. He has as much experience in intelligence as any serving or retired official." Feinstein wanted to assure Clapper that his experience was not in question.
Most complimentary to Clapper was Barbara Mikulski (D, Maryland) who said, "His candor, his straightforwardness, his willingness to tell it like it is, not the way the top brass wanted to hear it, I thought was refreshing. I think that in his job, that he will be able to speak truth to power, which God knows we needed, and he will speak truth about power, which we also needed."
You can watch the Senate hearings or read the prepared opening statement by Clapper. Good luck General Clapper…you’ll need it.