Commentary Magazine


Topic: James Clapper

Obama’s Mistakes Come Back to Haunt Him

President Obama sounded much tougher when he spoke at the United Nations last week than he has in a long time. But for anyone expecting the president to become a born-again hawk and repent of his earlier retreatism, the 60 Minutes interview that aired Sunday should be chastening.

Read More

President Obama sounded much tougher when he spoke at the United Nations last week than he has in a long time. But for anyone expecting the president to become a born-again hawk and repent of his earlier retreatism, the 60 Minutes interview that aired Sunday should be chastening.

The headline-grabbing statement was the president blaming the intelligence community for underestimating ISIS and overestimating the capacity of the Iraqi army. And it’s true that Jim Clapper, the director of national intelligence, did recently tell David Ignatius, “We underestimated ISIL [the Islamic State] and overestimated the fighting capability of the Iraqi army” although he also said that “his analysts had reported the group’s emergence and its ‘prowess and capability,’ as well as the ‘deficiencies’ of the Iraqi military.” So the president can take refuge in asserting that he was simply claiming Clapper’s own self-critique.

But I doubt that will seem very convincing to intelligence community personnel who will feel that the president is throwing them under the bus–hiding policy errors behind a front of supposed intelligence failures. Indeed, the New York Times today quotes one “senior American intelligence official” as saying: “Some of us were pushing the reporting, but the White House just didn’t pay attention to it. They were preoccupied with other crises. This just wasn’t a big priority.”

The reality is that it didn’t require any specialized intelligence apparatus to know that the threat from jihadists like ISIS would grow or that the capabilities of the Iraqi army would decline if we left Iraq and Syria alone, as we have largely done since 2011. I and many other analysts were noting at the time that the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq was a “tragedy” that would leave Iraqis ill-prepared to defend themselves and that the U.S. failure to help the moderate Syrian opposition would cede ground to “Sunnis extremists such as al Qaeda.” That Obama chose to ignore such warnings was not the fault of his intelligence personnel; it was his own fault for believing what he wanted to believe–namely that the U.S. could retreat from the Middle East without increasing the danger of our enemies gaining ground.

Such a belief was fantastic enough in 2011; it became utterly preposterous when in January of this year Fallujah and Ramadi fell to ISIS. Yet even then Obama did nothing for another nine months. It took the fall of Mosul in June to shake him out of his complacency–although not to get him off the golf course–and at last try to come up with some strategy to stop ISIS. Again, this isn’t the intelligence community’s fault. It’s Obama’s fault, and he would enhance his own credibility if he would accept some of the blame for this failure.

Instead he is once again pointing fingers, not only at the intelligence agencies but also at former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. “When we left, we had left them a democracy that was intact, a military that was well equipped, and the ability then to chart their own course,” Obama said. “And that opportunity was squandered over the course of five years or so because the prime minister, Maliki, was much more interested in consolidating his Shiite base and very suspicious of the Sunnis and the Kurds, who make up the other two-thirds of the country.”

True enough, but this analysis ignores the important role of Obama’s own administration in helping Maliki to win a second term in 2010 when he actually won fewer parliamentary seats than Ayad Allawi. It is also ignores the fact that those of us who were in favor of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq past 2011 (and that includes senior U.S. military commanders on the ground) believed it was essentially in no small part to allow the U.S. to continue exerting pressure on Maliki to stay non-sectarian. That Maliki would unleash his inner sectarian as soon as we left was also utterly predictable and cannot be blamed on any intelligence failure.

Of course Obama won’t accept responsibility for pulling out of Iraq either–he blames that too on the Iraqis for failing to agree to grant U.S. troops legal immunity in a status of forces agreed ratified by their parliament. Yet it turns out this was a bogus issue all along. How do I know? Because Obama has now sent 1,600, and counting, U.S. troops to Iraq without any legal immunity or any Status of Forces Agreement ratified by parliament. If he’s doing it now, why couldn’t he do it in 2012? Simply because he didn’t want to–Iraqi leaders almost certainly would have acceded if Obama had shown the will to remain past 2011.

Rather than accepting blame for his own misjudgments, Obama stubbornly continues to defend his mistakes such as failing to arm moderate Syrian fighters in 2011-2012 as most of his security cabinet was urging him to do. “For us to just go blind on that would have been counterproductive and would not have helped the situation. But we also would have committed us to a much more significant role inside of Syria,” Obama said.

Yet Obama’s own officials, including Robert Ford, his former ambassador to Damascus, have said that the U.S. has had the information for years that it needs to figure out who’s who among the Syrian rebels. It’s just that Obama refused to act on that information precisely because he refused to accept a “more significant role inside of Syria” even if such a role could have stopped the growth of ISIS.

If Obama is going to rebuild shattered confidence in his foreign policy, he needs to accept blame for what he did wrong before and act to correct those mistakes now instead of scapegoating others and taking refuge in half-measures such as his current air strikes without boots on the ground, which he characterized on 60 Minutes as a “counterterrorism operation” rather than “the sort of occupying armies that characterized the Iraq and Afghan war.”

Read Less

Obama, the Anti-Truman

There are three ways to read Barack Obama’s epic buck-passing from Sunday night’s interview on 60 Minutes. There is the literal reading: Obama, in trying to fend off blame for his administration’s failure regarding ISIS, said “Jim Clapper has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” referring to the intel community.

Read More

There are three ways to read Barack Obama’s epic buck-passing from Sunday night’s interview on 60 Minutes. There is the literal reading: Obama, in trying to fend off blame for his administration’s failure regarding ISIS, said “Jim Clapper has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” referring to the intel community.

Then there is the classic Obama-is-disappointed-in-America-yet-again framing, which is not flattering to Obama but better than the truth. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post went this route. Here’s the Times: “President Obama acknowledged in an interview broadcast on Sunday that the United States had underestimated the rise of the Islamic State militant group.” And the Post: “The United States underestimated the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, President Obama said during an interview.”

If you’ve followed the events of the past year, you’ll notice that neither of those spin cycles is true and so there must be a third option. There is: the truth, which is that Barack Obama underestimated ISIS despite the intel community trying desperately to explain it to him since day one. And thus, tired of getting thrown under the bus, the intel community has pointed out to Eli Lake at the Daily Beast that what the president said is completely divorced from reality:

Nearly eight months ago, some of President Obama’s senior intelligence officials were already warning that ISIS was on the move. In the beginning of 2014, ISIS fighters had defeated Iraqi forces in Fallujah, leading much of the U.S. intelligence community to assess they would try to take more of Iraq. …

Reached by The Daily Beast after Obama’s interview aired, one former senior Pentagon official who worked closely on the threat posed by Sunni jihadists in Syria and Iraq was flabbergasted. “Either the president doesn’t read the intelligence he’s getting or he’s bullshitting,” the former official said.

Is the president reading his intelligence reports? He must be. The more likely explanation of the two is that Obama knows exactly what happened–he messed up, royally–and is blaming others because it’s unpalatable for him to admit that six years into his presidency, he’s older but no wiser.

The Times does carefully draw attention to this fact:

In citing Mr. Clapper, Mr. Obama made no mention of any misjudgment he may have made himself. Critics have repeatedly pointed to his comment last winter characterizing groups like the Islamic State as a “JV team” compared with the original Al Qaeda.

Right. Though “any misjudgment he may have made” actually refers to this particular misjudgment, which he’s blaming on others, that we know for sure he made.

Just as interesting is why he made that egregious mistake. Part of it, surely, is his utter lack of knowledge of world history and politics. But that’s not enough of a reason, especially considering the fact that the U.S. intel community has been trying to remedy that by laying it all out there for him. Knowledge has been accumulated and summarily dismissed by Obama as distinctly unimportant. What matters to him is his cloistered worldview and fealty to ideology.

Later in the interview, Obama said:

Now the good news is that the new [Iraqi] prime minister, Abadi, who I met with this week, so far at least has sent all the right signals. And that’s why it goes back to what I said before, Steve, we can’t do this for them. We cannot do this for them because it’s not just a military problem. It is a political problem. And if we make the mistake of simply sending U.S. troops back in, we can maintain peace for a while. But unless there is a change in how, not just Iraq, but countries like Syria and some of the other countries in the region, think about what political accommodation means. Think about what tolerance means.

One hopes the president isn’t holding his breath. Obama returns to this trope time and again: it’s a political solution that’s needed, not a military solution. But security, as always, must precede any political solution. And that doesn’t come about by telling the warring parties to “Think about what tolerance means.”

Here, for example, is the lede of the New York Times story on a truly momentous occasion out of Afghanistan: “Ashraf Ghani, the former World Bank technocrat and prominent intellectual, on Monday became the first modern leader of Afghanistan to take office in a peaceful transfer of power.”

It was far from inevitable. The election Ghani won produced a bitter accusation of fraud and a threat to plunge the country into what would essentially be a new civil war. What made the difference? As our Max Boot has written, the crucial distinction between Afghanistan and other such conflicts in which the U.S. played a role is the fact that when John Kerry flew in to broker a solution to the crisis, there were tens of thousands of American troops in the country. “That,” Max wrote, “gives any American diplomat a lot of leverage should he choose to use it.”

President Obama doesn’t like to face up to the fact that his obsession with getting out of Iraq played a role in undermining the very “political solution” he hoped for. Now ISIS is collapsing borders and beheading Westerners, and they surely can’t be expected to “Think about what tolerance means.” The president made policy based on what he wanted to be true, in all likelihood knowing full well it wasn’t. He continues to be the anti-Truman, passing blame around when he deserves the lion’s share of it.

Read Less

Meanwhile in North Korea …

The 2014 “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community” presented by national intelligence director James Clapper to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week had a stunning conclusion regarding Iran, as Tom Wilson and Evelyn Gordon have noted. Clapper told the committee Iran “has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons.” The “central issue” is now “its political will to do so.” In other words, Iran can produce nuclear weapons if it wants; it only needs to decide when. 

The portion of the Clapper report relating to North Korea has been little reported, but it is equally stunning, and it bears on the situation involving Iran. Let’s review what happened in the last three years regarding North Korea, notwithstanding crippling sanctions and a tableful of options. 

Read More

The 2014 “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community” presented by national intelligence director James Clapper to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week had a stunning conclusion regarding Iran, as Tom Wilson and Evelyn Gordon have noted. Clapper told the committee Iran “has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons.” The “central issue” is now “its political will to do so.” In other words, Iran can produce nuclear weapons if it wants; it only needs to decide when. 

The portion of the Clapper report relating to North Korea has been little reported, but it is equally stunning, and it bears on the situation involving Iran. Let’s review what happened in the last three years regarding North Korea, notwithstanding crippling sanctions and a tableful of options. 

The 2011 Assessment stated “we do not know whether [North Korea] has produced nuclear weapons, but we assess it has the capability to do so.” The 2012 Assessment reported “North Korea has produced nuclear weapons.” The 2013 Assessment concluded the North Korean nuclear weapons and missile programs “pose a serious threat to the United States.” The 2014 Assessment states North Korea has expanded its uranium enrichment facility; has restarted its plutonium reactor; has begun fielding its road-mobile ICBM system; is developing long-range missile technology capable of directly threatening the United States; and is making efforts to market ballistic missiles, raising “global security concerns.” 

In other words, between 2011 and 2014, North Korea went from (a) having nuclear-weapons “capability,” to (b) having nuclear weapons, to (c) having weapons and missile programs posing “a serious threat” to the U.S., to (d) starting to sell ballistic missiles across the globe. As North Korea moved steadily to nuclear-weapons capability, then weapons, then missile delivery systems, then global impact, the effect of the unfortunate message to Iran from watching what happened to North Korea (nothing) was entirely predictable.

Back in 2012, when Clapper presented the 2012 Worldwide Threat Assessment to the Senate, he had the following exchange with Sen. Lindsey Graham about Iran: 

SEN. GRAHAM: Do you think they’re building these power plants for peaceful nuclear power generation purposes?

CLAPPER: That remains to be seen.

SEN. GRAHAM: You have doubt about the Iranians’ intention when it comes to making a nuclear weapon?

CLAPPER: Uh-h, I do.  I, I, uh, I –

SEN. GRAHAM: You’re not so sure they’re trying to make a bomb? You doubt whether or not they are trying to create a nuclear bomb?

CLAPPER: I think they are keeping themselves in a position to make that decision, but there are certain things they have not yet done and have not done for some time.

SEN. GRAHAM: How would we know when they have made that decision?

CLAPPER: I am happy to discuss that with you in closed session.

SEN. GRAHAM: Well I guess my point is that I take a different view. I’m very convinced that they’re going down the road of developing a nuclear weapon. I can’t read anyone’s mind, but it seems logical to me that they believe that if they get a nuclear weapon they’ll become North Korea …

Clapper’s 2014 report states “Iran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East” and has “the means and motivation to develop longer-range missiles, including an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).” Perhaps Iran is interested in a road-mobile one, or long-range missile technology capable of directly threatening the United States. The report indicates another country–one that in a different era might have been called part of an “axis of evil”–may be willing to help out, if it is not already doing so. 

Meanwhile, the administration purports not to know whether Iran decided to follow the trail blazed by North Korea. We may eventually find out, however, that “Uh-h, I do.  I, I, uh” was simply the least untruthful statement Clapper could make, as the slow-motion Munich proceeded.

Read Less

Clapper: Iran Ready for Nuclear Breakout

In yesterday’s State of the Union address President Obama spoke stridently of how “American diplomacy … has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program—and rolled back parts of that program.” The president spoke with apparent pride of the “peaceful” efforts being taken to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. How then to explain the fact that less than twenty-four hours after that speech was given, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was being informed that Iran essentially already has breakout capacity for building the bomb should it wish to do so?

While presenting the annual report on the worldwide threat assessment before the committee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper spoke of Iran’s extensive progress in expanding its nuclear and military infrastructure, including further work on its heavy-water facility at Arak. Clapper stated that “these technical advancements strengthen our assessment that Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons. This makes the central issue its political will to do so.” In a roundabout way, it would seem that we are being told that Iran is now ready and able to get the bomb, and all that remains to be seen is whether it is willing. With that comes the implication that this “political willingness” is the last thing that we might have any leverage over.

Read More

In yesterday’s State of the Union address President Obama spoke stridently of how “American diplomacy … has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program—and rolled back parts of that program.” The president spoke with apparent pride of the “peaceful” efforts being taken to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. How then to explain the fact that less than twenty-four hours after that speech was given, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was being informed that Iran essentially already has breakout capacity for building the bomb should it wish to do so?

While presenting the annual report on the worldwide threat assessment before the committee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper spoke of Iran’s extensive progress in expanding its nuclear and military infrastructure, including further work on its heavy-water facility at Arak. Clapper stated that “these technical advancements strengthen our assessment that Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons. This makes the central issue its political will to do so.” In a roundabout way, it would seem that we are being told that Iran is now ready and able to get the bomb, and all that remains to be seen is whether it is willing. With that comes the implication that this “political willingness” is the last thing that we might have any leverage over.

Under the current agreement, reached in Geneva last fall, Iran commits not to enrich uranium above five percent, rather than going to above twenty percent from which it is a quick and relatively simple process to reach the high weapons-grade materials needed for a bomb. The closest thing to good news that the annual report has on Iran is the claim that Iran would not be able to actually accomplish this final breakout without being detected. Cold comfort indeed, and not only for those countries within Iran’s immediate vicinity, but for all of us. For the annual report also stated that, in addition to its large stock of ballistic missiles, which have the capabilities for carrying a nuclear warhead, Iran’s space program gives it the ability to develop long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles.

What is perhaps most disheartening about this report is that because of the emphasis that it puts on the need to be able to monitor closely whether Iran is taking the final steps toward breakout, Clapper counsels that further sanctions would be counterproductive. In other words, the argument now seems to be that the U.S. must avoid imposing further sanctions, lest it disrupt the Iranians’ willingness to allow inspectors to monitor their ongoing and undismantled nuclear enrichment program. This sits in rather sharp contrast to the six United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for a total halt to Iran’s uranium enrichment.

These sentiments essentially echo the argument being pushed by Obama himself when he says that he would veto Congress should it vote for the implementation of further sanctions against Iran. Having apparently gone to great lengths to prevent Israel from carrying out a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, arguing that the military option threatened to jeopardize efforts on the negotiations and sanctions track, now we are told that sanctions too must be avoided because they threaten to jeopardize efforts on the monitoring track. In this way appeasement naturally necessitates more appeasement until the only thing that stands between Iran and genocidal weapons is Iran’s “political willingness,” or lack of it.

Even if we accept the assessment that places our last hope on our ability to closely monitor Iran’s nuclear activities, there remains the question of what would happen if inspectors discovered Iran to be in breach of any agreement. It would be too late to reassemble the sanctions in time for them to have any effect and by that point Iran’s nuclear network may have progressed beyond anything that could be destroyed by airstrikes. Furthermore, it is not inconceivable that our intelligence is flawed–it wouldn’t be the first time. If Iran has an unmonitored secret site where it is enriching to weapons-grade levels then all of Obama’s efforts to placate Iran by pulling apart the sanctions regime will have been in vain in any case.

It may, however, be worth noting that a poll by the Mellman group released yesterday revealed that 68 percent of American voters prefer the use of a military strike to the prospect of a nuclear Iran. They no doubt have made the commonsense assessment that leads one to conclude that if sanctions are not proving effective then a conventional military confrontation with Iran now, however unpleasant, is still preferable to a nuclear one later. It is sometimes hard to tell if the Obama administration has fully explored that same thought process.  

Read Less

Peter King’s Misguided Attack on Rand Paul

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s strengths as a prospective presidential candidate are generally well known, but there’s one that probably doesn’t get enough attention: he tends to get in his opponents’ heads all too easily. There was his filibuster over drones, which drew the accusation from John McCain that Paul was one of the party’s “wacko birds,” even when many who wouldn’t instinctively agree with Paul on the issue expressed admiration for his principled stand.

And there is his ongoing rivalry with Congressman Peter King, who is apparently contemplating challenging Paul for the GOP nomination in 2016. Paul’s criticism just before Christmas of National Intelligence Director James Clapper–who quite clearly misled Congress to avoid divulging classified information at a hearing–put King right out of the holiday spirit. “It’s an absolute disgrace,” King said of Paul. “He disgraced his office and he owes General Clapper an apology immediately.”

With all the revelations about the NSA data collection, it was unlikely to be the last installment of the King-Paul spats on the subject. And sure enough, King raised the ante yesterday on Fox:

Read More

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s strengths as a prospective presidential candidate are generally well known, but there’s one that probably doesn’t get enough attention: he tends to get in his opponents’ heads all too easily. There was his filibuster over drones, which drew the accusation from John McCain that Paul was one of the party’s “wacko birds,” even when many who wouldn’t instinctively agree with Paul on the issue expressed admiration for his principled stand.

And there is his ongoing rivalry with Congressman Peter King, who is apparently contemplating challenging Paul for the GOP nomination in 2016. Paul’s criticism just before Christmas of National Intelligence Director James Clapper–who quite clearly misled Congress to avoid divulging classified information at a hearing–put King right out of the holiday spirit. “It’s an absolute disgrace,” King said of Paul. “He disgraced his office and he owes General Clapper an apology immediately.”

With all the revelations about the NSA data collection, it was unlikely to be the last installment of the King-Paul spats on the subject. And sure enough, King raised the ante yesterday on Fox:

“Rand Paul does not know what he’s talking about,” King said after being asked to respond to Paul’s comments about the NSA. “And, Rand Paul is really spreading fear among the American people.”

“He was also was comparing General [James] Clapper to [Edward] Snowden,” King continued. “To me, he’s either totally uninformed or he’s part of that hate America crowd that I thought left us in the 1960s.”

“In any event, he doesn’t deserve to be in the United States senate for spreading that type of misperception and absolute lies to be honest with you,” the congressman concluded.

“Hate America”; “absolute lies”; “doesn’t deserve to be” a senator–these are strong words. They are also a disservice to the cause King is advocating, which is ostensibly a safe, strong America. And further, they are unnecessary. Based on the foreign-policy-related remarks from the other possible 2016 candidates, Paul appears to be in the minority on policy grounds–if not on the NSA, which isn’t particularly popular right now, then on a more holistic approach to foreign affairs.

Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, and by all indications Mike Pence believe in a more robust American presence in the world and are more comfortable with the projection of U.S. power than Rand Paul. Yet perhaps that’s what is motivating King after all–a belief that he needs to separate himself from the pack.

But King risks setting himself apart from the pack in another way, and not one that puts him on the side of the majority. King’s comments, yesterday and in other settings, carry the tone of someone far less trusting of his fellow citizens than of the government’s vast bureaucracy. The truth is, each day brings stories of the harm the NSA leaks can do to U.S. national security as well as reasons to demand answers from the agency itself.

Today, for example, Robert Samuelson warns that the disclosures could greatly damage the public-private collaboration on cybersecurity that is so greatly needed right now: “This may be the Snowden affair’s most insidious (and overlooked) consequence.” Yet Lachlan Markay notes that according to an internal report, the NSA was warned about possible Snowdens way back in 1996, prompting Gary Schmitt to comment that while Snowden betrayed his country, he “had (unwitting) accomplices who either ignored implementing existing security measures or failed to establish the most obvious and rudimentary security plans for contractors.”

Rand Paul has often been far too credulous of Snowden and his antidemocratic, self-righteous duplicity. As I wrote recently, Snowden believes he has the right to break federal law when members of Congress give statements he finds insufficient, and his grasp of American history would embarrass a grade-schooler. Paul should know better.

But so should King. Even if King believes the government has the legal right to collect the meta-data involved in the NSA programs, is he not concerned that the agency has time and again implied it can’t safeguard or control the information it collects? Does he honestly believe that there’s no room in the United States Senate for a civil libertarian like Paul?

This discussion demands a serious defense of America’s post-9/11 national-security infrastructure that also grapples with the changing conditions on the ground and the growing public skepticism toward government. King’s unusually personal attacks on Paul haven’t provided it.

Read Less

Obama’s Ethically Challenged Administration

Talk about collapsing standards. When Barack Obama ran for office, his promise wasn’t that he’d simply improve our politics; he would transform them. He would appoint men and women of unblemished integrity who would serve the public interest. Mr. Obama would hold people accountable. He boasted in 2010 that he had put in place the toughest ethics rules in history. His administration would be the most transparent in history. And all of this would restore faith and trust in government. 

That was then. Let me tell you about now. 

Read More

Talk about collapsing standards. When Barack Obama ran for office, his promise wasn’t that he’d simply improve our politics; he would transform them. He would appoint men and women of unblemished integrity who would serve the public interest. Mr. Obama would hold people accountable. He boasted in 2010 that he had put in place the toughest ethics rules in history. His administration would be the most transparent in history. And all of this would restore faith and trust in government. 

That was then. Let me tell you about now. 

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, clearly mislead Congress when in March of this year Clapper was asked by Senator Ron Wyden, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

“No, sir,” Clapper responded.

“It does not?” Wyden asked again.

“Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not wittingly.”

That statement was false, since we know that the NSA has collected phone records of millions of Americans. 

And so what is Mr. Clapper’s excuse? Try this one on for size. The New York Times reports that in an interview on Sunday with NBC News, Mr. Clapper acknowledged that his answer had been problematic, calling it “the least untruthful” answer he could give. 

That phrase–what Clapper said is “the least untruthful” answer he could give–should live on in scandal lore.

As you might expect, the Obama administration is expressing support for Clapper as criticism of him mounts. “The president has full faith in director Clapper and his leadership of the intelligence community,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told the Guardian.

Of course he does. Why wouldn’t Obama have faith in James Clapper, since his attorney general is Eric Holder (who has misled Congress on multiple occasions)?

Rather than cleanse the political Augean Stables, the president and his administration–with every unfolding scandal, with every misleading statement, with every effort to stonewall and intimidate political opponents–are adding to the filth.

Read Less

Wyden’s Stunt Was Congress at its Worst

On the face of it what happened in March was an example of everything that is wrong with government. When asked a straightforward question about whether the government collects data on millions of Americans, the director of national intelligence said the answer was no. In the wake of the revelation of the PRISM program that we know involves the capture of such data, James Clapper’s answer to Senator Ron Wyden’s question appears to be a big fat lie for which the DNI should pay with his job. Clapper’s deception seems to be just one more instance of governmental misbehavior along with Benghazi, the IRS scandal and the Justice Department’s spying on the Associated Press and Fox News. His dishonest answer is seen by many as little different from Attorney General Eric Holder’s lie when he was asked whether the government contemplated prosecutions of journalists even though he had already signed off on a court document in which Fox News’s James Rosen was labeled a “co-conspirator” and a flight risk.

But though I have little sympathy for Clapper, whose policy positions on the Islamist threat are highly questionable, lumping him together with Holder would not be fair. Far from being an honest probe into what the government was doing, it’s actually yet another example of how congressional grandstanding does the country little good. Wyden, who was already well briefed on PRISM and other intelligence operations, already knew the answer to the question when he asked it. But he also knew that it would have been inappropriate, if not illegal, for Clapper to answer the question honestly since doing so would have required him to publicly reveal highly classified information that ought not to be made available to America’s enemies. Wyden’s purpose wasn’t to shed light but to merely embarrass Clapper and the administration.

Read More

On the face of it what happened in March was an example of everything that is wrong with government. When asked a straightforward question about whether the government collects data on millions of Americans, the director of national intelligence said the answer was no. In the wake of the revelation of the PRISM program that we know involves the capture of such data, James Clapper’s answer to Senator Ron Wyden’s question appears to be a big fat lie for which the DNI should pay with his job. Clapper’s deception seems to be just one more instance of governmental misbehavior along with Benghazi, the IRS scandal and the Justice Department’s spying on the Associated Press and Fox News. His dishonest answer is seen by many as little different from Attorney General Eric Holder’s lie when he was asked whether the government contemplated prosecutions of journalists even though he had already signed off on a court document in which Fox News’s James Rosen was labeled a “co-conspirator” and a flight risk.

But though I have little sympathy for Clapper, whose policy positions on the Islamist threat are highly questionable, lumping him together with Holder would not be fair. Far from being an honest probe into what the government was doing, it’s actually yet another example of how congressional grandstanding does the country little good. Wyden, who was already well briefed on PRISM and other intelligence operations, already knew the answer to the question when he asked it. But he also knew that it would have been inappropriate, if not illegal, for Clapper to answer the question honestly since doing so would have required him to publicly reveal highly classified information that ought not to be made available to America’s enemies. Wyden’s purpose wasn’t to shed light but to merely embarrass Clapper and the administration.

Edward Snowden’s leak about the existence and purpose of PRISM made sure that Wyden’s questioning of Clapper would become a major story, thus giving the Oregon senator the prize he sought. As the clip of Clapper’s lie is shown in a seemingly endless loop on the cable news stations, Wyden is back in the spotlight posturing about the need for “straight talk” from the administration. But the senator, who has carefully built up a reputation as a sober advocate of civil liberties, is the one who is being disingenuous, not Clapper.

Clapper’s attempts to wriggle out of the corner into which Wyden put him are laughable. The attempts to parse his answer to Wyden’s question as being technically truthful don’t work and he should stop trying to claim that he didn’t lie. But a dispassionate view of these circumstances shows that there are times when honesty is not always the best policy.

As guardian of the nation’s secrets, Clapper’s first duty is to ensure that efforts to combat Islamist terror are protected. Whether one likes PRISM or not—and count me among those who regard efforts to depict it as an Orwellian scheme as wrongheaded—the whole purpose of the program would have been undermined had it been made public. Wyden’s goal that day was not to elicit information so much as it was to force Clapper to choose between trashing a legal and necessary security measure and to lie. Though he must have hated doing it—something that showed up clearly in his body language as he told the lie—I can’t blame him for sacrificing his own credibility in order to protect a national secret.

Unlike Holder, who had no security or policy reason to lie about his targeting of James Rosen when he lied to Congress about that issue, Clapper was faced with a real dilemma and probably chose the lesser of two evils.

The real culprit that day was Wyden, who used the bully pulpit of a Senate committee hearing to create a sound byte. His pious declamations about his goals notwithstanding, by asking that question in public, he was seeking to trash a measure that by all accounts has been helpful in defending the nation. Like so many senators and members of Congress who have used hearings to posture more than legislate, Wyden’s question was pure theater. Rather than this episode being an example of administration misconduct, it was actually one that illustrated what happens when a senator gets the chance to grandstand in front of a television camera.

Whatever we may think of Clapper, he doesn’t deserve the opprobrium he has been getting on this issue. If anyone deserves our disdain here it is the senator who placed his ideological agenda ahead of the country’s national security needs.

Read Less

CBS: DNI Changed Talking Points

CBS reports that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence removed references to terrorism from the CIA talking points before distribution:

CBS News has learned that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) cut specific references to “al Qaeda” and “terrorism” from the unclassified talking points given to Ambassador Susan Rice on the Benghazi consulate attack – with the agreement of the CIA and FBI. The White House or State Department did not make those changes. …

However, an intelligence source tells CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan the links to al Qaeda were deemed too “tenuous” to make public, because there was not strong confidence in the person providing the intelligence. CIA Director David Petraeus, however, told Congress he agreed to release the information — the reference to al Qaeda — in an early draft of the talking points, which were also distributed to select lawmakers. …

The head of the DNI is James Clapper, an Obama appointee. He ultimately did review the points, before they were given to Ambassador Rice and members of the House intelligence committee on Sept. 14. They were compiled the day before.

Brennan says her source wouldn’t confirm who in the agency suggested the final edits which were signed off on by all intelligence agencies.

First, the CIA answers to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, so the whole notion that the CIA “agreed” to the changes is moot. They “agreed” to the changes because they were told to by the ODNI. Second, Clapper is clearly sprinting from this — the responsibility for the changes is pinned vaguely on the “Office of the Director of National Intelligence,” without much mention of him. The article actually leaves open the possibility that somebody else within the ODNI changed the talking points without running the changes by Clapper first, as if that’s believable.

Read More

CBS reports that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence removed references to terrorism from the CIA talking points before distribution:

CBS News has learned that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) cut specific references to “al Qaeda” and “terrorism” from the unclassified talking points given to Ambassador Susan Rice on the Benghazi consulate attack – with the agreement of the CIA and FBI. The White House or State Department did not make those changes. …

However, an intelligence source tells CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan the links to al Qaeda were deemed too “tenuous” to make public, because there was not strong confidence in the person providing the intelligence. CIA Director David Petraeus, however, told Congress he agreed to release the information — the reference to al Qaeda — in an early draft of the talking points, which were also distributed to select lawmakers. …

The head of the DNI is James Clapper, an Obama appointee. He ultimately did review the points, before they were given to Ambassador Rice and members of the House intelligence committee on Sept. 14. They were compiled the day before.

Brennan says her source wouldn’t confirm who in the agency suggested the final edits which were signed off on by all intelligence agencies.

First, the CIA answers to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, so the whole notion that the CIA “agreed” to the changes is moot. They “agreed” to the changes because they were told to by the ODNI. Second, Clapper is clearly sprinting from this — the responsibility for the changes is pinned vaguely on the “Office of the Director of National Intelligence,” without much mention of him. The article actually leaves open the possibility that somebody else within the ODNI changed the talking points without running the changes by Clapper first, as if that’s believable.

It’s not the first time Clapper has tried to distance himself from his own office, either; back in September, DNI spokesperson Shawn Turner issued a statement in September about the “changing assessment” on Benghazi, and it was noted at the time that this statement did not come from Clapper himself.

This quote in the CBS article, from Turner, also raises more questions:

“The intelligence community assessed from the very beginning that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack,” DNI spokesman Shawn Turner tells CBS News. That information was shared at a classified level — which Rice, as a member of President Obama’s cabinet, would have been privy to.

So President Obama, Rice, Clapper and others were aware this was a terrorist attack “from the very beginning.” Why wouldn’t they acknowledge this publicly for nearly two weeks? What’s more, Turner’s comment contradicts that same DNI statement he issued on Sept. 28:

In the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo. We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available. …

As we learned more about the attack, we revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists. It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attack, and if extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. However, we do assess that some of those involved were linked to groups affiliated with, or sympathetic to al-Qa’ida.

CBS reports the White House wasn’t aware of the talking point changes, but is that believable? There were signs in the past that the DNI position was being politicized and micro-managed by the Obama White House, an atmosphere that eventually led to Dennis Blair’s resignation. Shortly after the failed Christmas Day bombing, Blair seemed to hint at the political pressure publicly during a House Intelligence Committee hearing. “I just can’t control all of the politics,” he told the committee. “The political dimension of what can be [and what] ought to be a national security issue has been quite high…I don’t think it’s been very particularly good, I will tell you, from the inside in terms of us trying to get the right job done to protect the United States.”

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.