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Secretary Gates' Comments on the Nomination of James Clapper as Director of National Intelligence, en route to Baku, Azerbaijan

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
June 06, 2010

                SEC. GATES:  I wanted to say how pleased I am that the President has nominated my friend Jim Clapper to be the next DNI.  I probably know more about this job and the difficulties it entails as anybody.  As you may recall I was first offered the job in January 2005 and frankly in 2004 opposed the creation of the position because I thought it would be very complicated to make it work.  But what is really key, in my view, in making the DNI office work is the chemistry between the DNI and the other leaders of the intelligence community.  I know that some are looking for a strong executive 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 sixteen intelligence agencies actually work for the DNI.  Over the past few years we have worked out arrangements, largely due to the efforts of Jim Clapper, to try and strengthen the DNI’s role by various side agreements between the Secretary of Defense and Director of CIA and the DNI, in terms of personnel appointments and things like that.  All of which is to say that what is really key for success in leading the intelligence community and for the DNI, in my view, is not only long experience and familiarity with the intelligence world, but the temperament to have the kind of constructive, positive chemistry with the other leaders of the intelligence community.  And General Clapper has that kind of chemistry, has had it all along.

                I’ve known Jim for over twenty years now.  When I was Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) he was the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).  He has been retired from the Air Force for I think about 10 years.   He’s very independent minded.  But he is the consummate intelligence professional who has the respect of virtually everybody in the community.  He is the first person and actually the only person that I hired and brought with me when I became Secretary of Defense, to fill the job of Under Secretary for Intelligence.  I frankly, when the President first asked me about this, I kind of winced with pain because the idea of losing Jim at the Defense Department is a real loss for us.  But I think for those who are worried about him coming from too military of a background, if they look at his record as the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (USDI) 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. 

                I know there are some on the Hill that have concerns about Jim in terms of having a military background.  I’ve seen some criticism that he wasn’t forthcoming enough.  Part of this in my view is a jurisdictional issue on the Hill itself.  I have never heard a single complaint from the armed services committees about Jim’s forthcomingness.   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.  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 to significantly enhance the ability of our overseers on the Hill to do their job.  So I think the President could not have found a better person, a more experience person or with a better temperament to do this job and actually make it work, than Jim Clapper. 

                Q     Just quickly on that Mr. Secretary, you say in 2004 you opposed the creation of the DNI even though clearly you support this nomination.  Have you come to believe the office itself now provides some utility or value?

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think it provides value and I think one thing that has added to the value frankly are some of the arrangements that we have reached since 2006, since I became SECDEF, to enhance the linkages.  I’ll give you one example, and it was Jim’s idea.  How do you give the DNI some reach into the Dept of Defense that has meaning?  Jim came up with the idea of double-hatting himself as both the USDI but also as the Director of Military Intelligence.   And in that hat 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 par with others within the DNI’s executive framework.  So it was Clapper’s idea.  How do we create an organic linkage between the Department of Def and the DNI?  And it was Jim’s idea to create this double-hatted arrangement.  So I think it’s an example of how he has actually worked to try to empower the DNI and help him do his job better.  And I think if you talk to Dennis Blair or Mike McConnell, his predecessor, they would tell you that Clapper has played exactly that kind of role.

                Q     Do you think that more powers need to be invested in the DNI, such as the power to control budgets and so on?  Do you think more is needed to be done now that Clapper has been nominated?

                SEC. GATES:  I thought that in 2004, and the Congress went in a different way.  One of the reasons I opposed the legislation was because I never believed the Congress would actually give the job all of the authorities it needed to be successful.  There was a lot of talk in those days about creating a Goldwater-Nichols for the intelligence community.  But what people never understood 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.  You know, we have intelligence units in the Treasury Department, in 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 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 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 at the end of the day he has to bring people along through leadership and through accommodating their interest as well as what he thinks is in the national interest.   It’s his ability to get people to voluntarily work together especially, [that’s what] Jim brings to the job.

                Q     Do you support further increases in the power of DNI, such as budget authority?

                SEC. GATES:  First of all, that would require new legislation and I don’t see that being in the cards at this point.  But we have taken a lot of steps to try and give the DNI over the last, since I became Secretary of Defense, to try and empower the DNI on appointments.  I’ll give you another example: In the legislation the DNI is given certain authorities in terms of hiring people with the consent or agreement of the Secretary of Defense.  But the law is silent on him being able to fire anybody.  So the arrangement that I’ve worked out with the DNI was that either one of us could initiate the firing of a senior intelligence person, including in the Dept. of Defense, but it would take our agreement for that actually to happen.  And if we disagreed we would take that issue to the President.  So I think these are some of the work-arounds that we have developed over the last 3 ½ years that have served to strengthen the powers of the DNI.