The Clapper memo revealed

The Clapper memo revealed

Yesterday, we reported that the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee were resisting the nomination of James Clapper to become the next director of national intelligence because he had argued in an April 28 memo against strengthening that very position.

Today, we have obtained a copy of the memo (pdf), which is entitled, "Discussion Draft: Provisions for FY2010 Intelligence Authorization Act that would expand DNI authorities over leadership and management of DOD’s intelligence components."

The paper, written by Clapper’s staff, but not signed by Clapper himself, spells out 17 concerns that the Pentagon apparently had with the intelligence policy bill making its way through Congress. It’s clearly an attempt to defend the secretary of defense’s authority over defense intelligence agencies against what the memo’s writers see as encroachment by the Office of the DNI.

The bill "contains several provisions that, if enacted, would grant authorities to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) that would conflict with longstanding authorities of the Secretary of Defense over the management, direction, and oversight of intelligence components for which the Secretary remains responsible," the memo states. "These provisions in the aggregate have the potential to significantly impact the Secretary of Defense’s statutory responsibility to exercise authority, direction, and control over elements of the Defense Intelligence Enterprise and by extension, his ability to determine how elements of the Defense Intelligence Enterprise provide support to the warfighter."

The first objection the memo raises is about the bill’s provision to bring the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (which focuses on top-secret intelligence satellites and maps) under the "direction" of the DNI with an altered mission. Clapper led NGA from 2001 to 2006 and was reportedly removed from that job by then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after he testified that he wouldn’t mind if NGA control was transferred to the DNI.

So what’s the big deal about this memo?

The White House is arguing that Clapper is not against a stronger role for the DNI and also that the paper does not represent his personal views on the role of the DNI. As White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told Sen. Kit Bond when defending Clapper, "Where he stands is where he sits."

The White House is pushing back hard against Feinstein and Bond’s assertion that Clapper doesn’t support a strong DNI, pointing to an article Clapper wrote in February in The Oxford Handbook of National Security Intelligence  entitled, "The Role of Defense in Shaping U.S. Intelligence Reform," where he acknowledges his views about the ODNI have changed over time.

Some quotes in the article seem to suggest that Clapper is happy with recent enhancements of the ODNI but other quotes seem to suggest he doesn’t want to see ODNI have more power.

"I have come to believe that we will not see legislation that gives the DNI unambiguous authority in the near term nor do I believe much more authority is warranted," Clapper wrote.

Overall, the White House line on intelligence reform right now is that a more streamlined ODNI can be more effective and ODNI doesn’t have to have control over every agency in order to lead the community, as the senators prefer.

"There is an important distinction between ‘centralization’ of authority over the intelligence community, a community that is distributed within and among a variety of cabinet departments and agencies — and ‘optimization’ of capabilities of the intelligence community," said a White House official. "Strong leadership of the intelligence community is essential, which is why Jim Clapper was selected to be the next DNI." 

The administration sees Feinstein’s and Bond’s objections as part of their overall push for greater committee jurisdiction over defense department assets. For their part, Hill sources lament that Clapper’s memo seemed to be criticizing a bill that they thought had already been negotiated with the administration.

Regardless, Feinstein said she won’t move the nomination until her bill gets passed and her concerns are addressed. She meets with Clapper this week.