Accessibility links

Breaking News

US Intel Chief Nominee Pledges Toughness in Spies' Oversight

President Barack Obama's nominee to be the top U.S. intelligence official says he will test the limits of his authority to get government agencies to cooperate. Raymond Clapper made the pledge during his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday. A newspaper's investigative report on the intelligence community provided plenty of fodder for questions.

Retired Air Force General Raymond Clapper adopted a stern tone in his appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee. A 46-year veteran of the intelligence business, Clapper said the intelligence community needs a tough leader and that he intends to be a no-nonsense Director of National Intelligence, or DNI.

"I would not have agreed to take this position if I were going to be a titular figurehead or a hood ornament. I believe that the position of Director of National Intelligence is necessary. And whether it's in the construct [the form] we have now or the Director of Central Intelligence in the old construct, there needs to be a clear, defined, identifiable leader of the intelligence community to exert direction and control over the entirety of that community," he said.

In an answer to one senator's question, Clapper, who is Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, asserted the DNI has the authority to overrrule the CIA director - a stance, analysts say, that will likely draw criticism at the Central Intelligence Agency.

The post of DNI was created in 2004 in response to the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The idea was to foster cooperation and information sharing among the 16 agencies that collectively make up the U.S. intelligence community.

But critics charge that the law did not gave the DNI real authority over their budgets or operations. Moreover, the agencies failed to intercept communications on at least two failed terrorist plots - one to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner from Europe late last year and another to detonate a bomb in New York's Times Square this year.

But Clapper, who would be fourth DNI since the post was created, says his predecessors did not sufficiently wield the weight of the office. "I believe that it already has considerable authority, either explicit in the law, the IRTPA [Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act], or implicit, that can be exerted. It's my belief that the issue in the past perhaps has been the art form by which that authority has been asserted. And it would be my intent to push the envelope, to use your phrase, test the limits on where those authorities can be broadened," he said.

There has been an explosive growth in intelligence agency personnel and contractors since 2001 that has fostered massive spending, bureaucratic turf wars and redundant efforts.

Senator Barbara Mikulski pointed to cybersecurity as one area where those problems are rampant. "Now we get into cybersecurity, and I think the governance structure is mush. There's no way for clarity; there's no answer to who's in charge. And there's no method for deconflicting disagreements or turf warfare," she said.

New details of the explosive growth in what Senator Olympia Snowe labeled a "megabureaucracy" emerged this week in The Washington Post newspaper.

But Clapper downplayed the articles and accused the stories' authors of engaging in sensationalism. He said, for example, that some duplication of intelligence efforts can be a good thing.

"There are cases, as there have been in the history of intelligence, where there has been a conscious decision to have some duplication. One man's duplication is another man's competitive analysis. So there is a certain amount of that that does go on, which I do think is a healthy check and balance. That is not to say, sir, and I would not assert, that this is completely efficient and that there isn't waste. There is, and the community does work to try to eliminate that," he said.

Clapper said the sharp increase in the use of outside contractors for intelligence tasks was necessary to increase intelligence capabilities after the 2001 terrorist attacks. But he said that dependence will be reduced. The retired Air Force general admitted that the staff at DNI headquarters has gotten too large and that the contractors there would be pared back.