Clapper meets with senators behind closed doors ahead of committee vote

Clapper meets with senators behind closed doors ahead of committee vote

James Clapper, President Obama’s choice to become the next director of national intelligence, is set to be approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday, but not before he gets grilled by committee members one more time.

The committee and its leaders, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, and Kit Bond, R-MO, have made no secret of the fact that Clapper was not their first choice for the position.

Among the sources of contention are Clapper’s previous writings and recent testimony, which indicate that he doesn’t share the committee’s view that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence needs more authority. In a memo first obtained by The Cable, Clapper, writing in his current capacity as the under secretary of defense for intelligence, argued that the DNI should not have expanded powers.

Unsatisfied with his previous responses, several committee members demanded that he come before them one more time to answer questions behind closed doors. That meeting is today.

The Atlantic reported that it was Bond who had lingering questions for Clapper, but as this committee document (pdf) shows, several senators submitted questions for Clapper to answer before they would sign off on sending his nomination to the full Senate.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, asked Clapper to hand over a May 24 memo he wrote to President Obama about his vision for the DNI role after Secretary of Defense Bob Gates told him Obama was considering him for the position. Clapper didn’t give Coburn the memo, but gave him the main points of it: The nominee wants to set reasonable expectations for the intelligence community, would rule over it using consensus rather than fiat, and plans to "push the envelope" on asserting the DNI’s authority within the framework of existing law.

"My conviction that the DNI has a great deal of authority already, but the challenge has been how that authority is asserted," Clapper wrote.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT, asked Clapper to explain why he thought that closing the prison at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, would undermine terrorist ideology.

"Extremists regularly use Guantanamo Bay Detention Center (GTMO) to illustrate that the U.S. deliberately persecutes, imprisons, and tortures Muslims and is hypocritical about its own values and legal procedures when it pursues its war against Islam," Clapper responded. "While GTMO’s closure may not stop citations of GTMO in extremist rhetoric, it may reduce anger among Muslims who are vulnerable to radicalization."

Bond wanted to know, among other things, how Clapper would get the CIA to share more information with the rest of the intelligence community. Clapper responded that the sharing agreements that govern such interactions need to be looked at and probably updated. Clapper said he does not think new legislation supported by Bond that would give the DNI power to hold other agency personnel accountable was necessary, but he pledged to implement it if it becomes law.

Clapper did admit, however, that the DNI’s primacy over the CIA is still mired in confusion. "I believe that the extent of the DNI’s statutory authority over the CIA is not clear," he wrote.