Gates Calls Clapper Right Choice for Top Intel Post
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, June 6, 2010 James R. Clapper, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the next director of national intelligence, is the right man for the job, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.
Azerbiajani President Ilham Aliyev, right, greets U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at the Presidential Palace in Baku, Azerbiajan June 6, 2010. DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Clapper, a retired Air Force lieutenant general, now serves in a dual capacity as director of military intelligence and undersecretary of defense for intelligence.
In a news conference en route to Baku, Azerbaijan, from Singapore, Gates said Clapper would bring vast experience and the right approach to the position.
“I think the president could not have found a better person, a more experienced person, or [a person] with a better temperament to do this job and actually make it work than Jim Clapper,” the secretary said.
Gates said he’s heard different opinions of what type of person would be most effective as director of national intelligence, and he offered his own.
“What is really key, in my view, in making that DNI office work is the chemistry between the DNI and the other leaders of the intelligence community,” he said. “I know that some are looking for a strong executive – a big boss that tells everybody what to do. But structurally, that’s almost impossible with this job, because virtually none of the heads of the 16 intelligence agencies actually work for the DNI.”
Arrangements have been worked out in the last few years to strengthen the position, the secretary said, largely through Clapper’s efforts in brokering agreements among the secretary of defense and the directors of the CIA and national intelligence regarding personnel appointments and other matters.
The secretary said he’s known Clapper for more than 20 years; Clapper was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency when Gates was CIA director. He described Clapper as “very independent-minded,” and as a consummate professional who has the respect of virtually everyone in the intelligence community.
“He is the first person – and, actually, the only person – that I hired and brought with me when I became secretary of defense,” Gates said, acknowledging he “kind of winced with pain” when Obama first asked him about Clapper’s possible nomination for the DNI post.
“The idea of losing Jim at the Defense Department is a real loss for us,” he said.
Anyone concerned that Clapper’s background is “too military” should consider his service as undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Gates said.
“If they look at his record [in that position] and the reforms that he’s put in, and his interactions with the civilian intelligence agencies, you will see a record of somebody who can really get along with all of these folks,” Gates said.
Concerns on Capitol Hill that Clapper isn’t forthcoming enough probably stem in part from jurisdictional issues in Congress, the secretary said, noting that he has never has heard a single complaint along those lines from the armed services committees.
“I think some of what you see is the jurisdictional conflict between the intelligence committees and the armed services committees in terms of who gets briefed on what,” he said. “But Jim has a strong, long record of not only adherence to congressional oversight, but support of it and enthusiastic cooperation. And he has done things from the Department of Defense standpoint significantly to enhance the ability of our overseers on the Hill to do their job.”
Gates said Clapper added to the value of the director of national intelligence position by coming up with a way to give the DNI meaningful reach into the Defense Department.
“Jim came up with the idea of ‘double-hatting’ himself as both the undersecretary of defense for intelligence [and] as the director of military intelligence,” he explained. “In that role as director of military intelligence, he sits on the DNI’s executive council and participates as one of the agency heads, if you will, on a par with others within the DNI’s executive framework.”
Gates noted his own opposition in 2004 to the legislation that created the director of national intelligence position, and the fact that he declined the post when it was offered to him in January 2005.
“One of the reasons why I opposed the legislation was because I never believed that the Congress would actually give the job all of the authorities that it needed to be successful,” he said.
The talk back then, he recalled, was creating a “Goldwater-Nichols Act” for the intelligence community. That law forced a reluctant defense establishment to work more as a single entity than as separate services.
“But what people never understood,” Gates said, “is that the only reason Goldwater-Nichols works in the Department of Defense is because at the end of the day, everybody works for one person. That’s not true in the intelligence community. We have intelligence units in the Treasury Department and the State Department and all these other places. Those Cabinet officers are not going to allow their intelligence components to be run by somebody outside their department.
“So what you need,” he continued, “is somebody who can lead all of those people and bring them to work together, rather than trying to command them to do things. The analogy that I’ve used is that the DNI is more comparable to a powerful congressional committee chair than it is to a CEO. He has a lot of inherent authority in the law, but … he has to bring people along though leadership and through accommodating their interests as well as what he thinks is in the national interest. And it’s this ability to get people voluntarily to work together, especially, that I think Jim brings to the job.”