A Short Primer on James Clapper

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)


Every conspiracy needs its doofy, comic relief character.  Enter James Clapper with his occasional deer-in-headlights look when caught red handed in a lie.  Seriously- look at that picture at the top of this page.  That is the face and look of an alien escapee from Area 51 or Roswell.

James Clapper came to the intelligence community much differently than Brennan- through the military.  By 1991, he had become George H. W. Bush’s Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.  In that role, he tried to reorganize the agency based on weapons rather than country or region, but the initiative failed and they resorted to the previous organizational structure.  

In 1995, he retired from active duty, but stayed active in military intelligence.  He was assigned the role of investigating the Khobar Tower bombing in 1996 and likely came into contact with Brennan who had been assigned as a CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia by then.  In 2001, he was appointed director of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency which was later rebranded the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).  He left the NGA in 2006 to enter the private sector working for a company called GeoEye which made satellites, along with working for a British military contractor which was a subsidiary of BAE systems, as well as defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.  While at GeoEye, the NGA had two contracts with the company.  He also secured a teaching position at Georgetown University until George W. Bush tapped him to become Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.  In that role, he oversaw the NGA, DIA, NSA, and the National Reconnaissance Office.

Clapper stayed on into the Obama administration when he was nominated to become Director of National Intelligence (DNI) at the suggestion of Defense Secretary Robert Gates.  His nomination ran into problems as both Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Kit Bond (R-MO) initially opposed Clapper given his military background and emphasis on defense matters.  Regardless, his nomination was confirmed unanimously by a Senate vote.  During his confirmation hearings, he promised a bigger role for the intelligence agencies, and oversight over the drone program in Pakistan.  

In March, 2013, during a Senate hearing and responding to rumors in the press and elsewhere, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) asked Clapper whether the NSA collected data on Americans.  Clapper responded with a firm no.  When asked again, he qualified the answer somewhat and said that if it happened, it occurred unwittingly, and it was not intentional.  In June 2013, Edward Snowden became a household name when documents were released showing that the NSA had collected communications on 120 million Americans.  Snowden said that Clapper’s lie, among other things, is what prompted him to go public.  

Clapper rationalized the collection of phone records as authorized under Section 216 of FISA.   Wyden later suggested that Clapper deliberately lied since he had been provided a copy of the question a day before it was asked.  

In July, he apologized to the Senate Intelligence Committee stating, incredibly, he forgot about the Patriot Act.  There were demands in the press that Clapper resign, but Obama refused those requests which were also pouring in from members of Congress.  Soon thereafter, Clapper amended the rules for talking with reporters making even unclassified information an actionable offense for disciplinary action within the intelligence community.  This was, he claimed, designed to stop leaks.  However, several watchdog groups described it as a gag order and that it would target whistleblowers.

In the end, this writer believes Clapper was the “go-along” goofy guy needed for comic relief in any saga.  But like the guy in the movie who parks the get away car at the wrong bank being robbed by others, he is just as guilty of the robbery.  It is called conspiracy and it makes the goofy go-along guy no less guilty.

Next: A two-part look at Andrew McCabe.  If you want to talk about Russian connections…