Advancing a Free Society

One Cheer for the DNI

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I’m not a huge fan of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Clapper’s main selling point so far has been that he’s less an affront than the person President Obama wanted to appoint to the job, which is White House Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan (who made himself unconfirmable in the aftermath of the 2009 Christmas bombing attempt by arguing we shouldn’t be concerned by former Guantanamo inmates returning to the fight, because the recidivism rate from U.S. prisons was even higher).

Clapper is better than what we might have had, but he’s still so ineffectual that he considers the Muslim Brotherhood a secular organization had to be clued in by a journalist about terrorist arrests by America’s closest ally. It doesn’t strengthen Clapper’s case that CIA Director Leon Panetta had to admit getting his information about the revolution in Egypt from CNN after wrongly testifying to Congress that Mubarak had abdicated.

Still, Clapper merits defending against the latest criticism of his job performance. In testimony last week, Clapper assessed that Libyan rebels were likely to be defeated by Gaddafi’s forces unless they received outside assistance. He was rebuked by Senate supporters of U.S. intervention, including Senator Lindsey Graham, who called for Clapper’s resignation.

But what Clapper did was provide the Congress his judgment on a developing foreign policy crisis. That is, he did his job. Rather than condemning him, we should be appreciative that he gave an assessment he knew would be unpopular, and that was at variance with the story line coming out of the White House (that we had time to work through international organizations and didn’t need to rush to the assistance of rebels).

It would have been easier and more political for the Director of National Intelligence to shade his views toward the recipients, to support the Administration position, or to evade providing our legislative branch with intelligence information and his judgment based on that information.

It shouldn’t be news when the Director of National Intelligence provides an independent intelligence assessment, and we should support him when he does so, especially when we don’t like what we’re hearing.

(photo credit: Official White House photo by Pete Souza)