Director of the Office of National Intelligence James Clapper

Director of the Office of National Intelligence James Clapper J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Clapper Touts Progress at Integrating Intelligence Community

National Intelligence director continues plans for cuts under sequestration.

James Clapper on Tuesday responded to his predecessors’ questions of whether his job as director of the Office of National Intelligence should be that of a manager, a coordinator or “an empowered quarterback.”

His answer? “All of the above, with distinct roles in different situations.”

Clapper said he views his office, which oversees 17 intelligence agencies around government, as “setting the example for a culture of integration” envisioned in the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act “so that integration becomes an instinct as opposed to dictating it as an afterthought.” Clapper spoke at a symposium themed “A Decade of Intelligence Community Integration,” put on by the nonprofit Intelligence and National Security Alliance in Arlington, Va.

He expressed doubts that Congress will relieve the intelligence community of automatic cuts under sequestration for fiscal 2016. “That doesn’t mean taxing everyone equally at the office but making judgments and making investments so we’re prepared,” the onetime Air Force general said.

Among his accomplishments—for which he gave continuing credit to his three predecessors in the hot-seat job—Clapper included “crashing together collection and analysis into a single organization,” which meant reducing the number of deputies. “The work of all staff elements enables the integration culture in each respective function,” everything from acquisition to the inspector general, he said.  The IG is now leading multi-agency teams and does peer reviews, a “powerful concept,” he added.

When he arrived at ODNI in 2010, Clapper said, the traditional “stoplight” charts showing progress on procurement contracts using red, yellow and green to indicate status were plagued by delays that “would put an autumn drive in the Shenandoah Valley to shame.” But more recently, the charts have shown more lights “as green as the Pacific Northwest,” he said.

Integration has been demonstrated in the recent efforts to create a narrative of the Russians’ manipulation of evidence in last July’s crash of a Malaysian jetliner in the battle zone in Ukraine. And the FBI is “seeing the benefits” of integration in combatting the threat of domestic terrorist threats, he said. FBI Director James Comey “is my hero,” Clapper said, noting that the integrated approach to intelligence sharing also saves money.

But it is also important, Clapper said he noted on a recent trip to Europe, “not to isolate minority groups such as Muslims and create a terrorist breeding ground.”

The intelligence community is actively pursuing security clearance reform, “which is complicated and very litigious,” Clapper said, noting that he has cut three-quarters of a million people from eligibility and added more training. “We won’t prevent another [Chelsea] Manning or [Edward] Snowden [leak], but we will detect it earlier,” Clapper said. “I don’t want to create an oppressive ‘Big Brother’ intelligence community so that people say, ‘I won’t put up with this.’ ”

ODNI is demonstrating new transparency, Clapper said, by recently releasing 5,000 pages on Tumblr, “some of which were critical of our mistakes,” he said. Despite the criticism, ODNI remains high on the Partnership for Public Service’s annual Best Places to Work in the Federal Government list, Clapper noted, vowing to “push” against the continuing domination of the “smaller” NASA in that ranking.

“It’s a reflection of their commitment to the mission that 11,000 intelligence community members have signed up for joint duty,” he said, noting that many renewed their oath at a recent Constitution Day ceremony. To illustrate his vision of integration, Clapper recalled a story from President Kennedy during the early days of NASA’s moon launch effort. “We do it not because it is easy but because it is hard,” Kennedy said. But a janitor working on the project also described his job as “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

Symposium attendees—active and retired military, spy agency professionals and academics—also heard from Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a member of the Intelligence Committee who was instrumental in enactment of the 2004 law. Reviewing the conflicts over the ODNI’s authority in the face of objections from defenders of the Defense Department’s intelligence independence, Collins said the most important part of the law was creation of ODNI’s sister organization, the National Counterterrorism Center, “which has lived up to all we hoped it would be.”

That success “wouldn’t be possible without information sharing,” Collins said. “The intelligence community workforce isn’t thanked enough and receives a lot of unwarranted criticism.” Collins was less complimentary about the law’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, to which neither President George W. Bush nor President Obama made appointments in a timely manner, and whose first report on bulk telephone surveillance was “divisive,” she said.

One failure of the 2004 law, Collins acknowledged, was not requiring Congress to simplify the panoply of oversight committees that take up agency executives’ time with multiple briefings. “We tried to get congressional oversight reform, we got whacked,” she said, citing turf wars. “Congress always talks about reforming the bureaucracy but can’t reform itself.”

The top priority now, Collins added, is enactment of a cybersecurity law to make it easier for the public and private sector to share intelligence. “We have not begun to bring this problem under control,” she said. “We’re at 9/10 when it comes to cyber-preparedness.”