Obama's intelligence nominee says he won't be a 'hood ornament'

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, cited The Post's series on 'Top Secret America' in calling on Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr., nominated to be the next director of national intelligence, to avoid 'overlap and duplication' in the intelligence community.
By Ellen Nakashima and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 21, 2010

President Obama's nominee to lead the nation's intelligence community vowed Tuesday to "push the envelope" in asserting his authority and pledged that he would not be a "hood ornament" for a system marked by the recent massive expansion of top-secret agencies and contracts.

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr., who seeks to become the next director of national intelligence, testified for three hours before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He explained his plans for handling a system that, according to a Washington Post series, has burgeoned since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks into a secretive, unwieldy colossus that defies effective oversight.

Clapper, 69, who appeared to draw bipartisan support during the hearing, said he was "reasonably confident" that he could improve the cohesion and performance of the U.S. intelligence community, although, he said, "I don't think I can cure world hunger for intelligence."

Clapper, the Defense Department's undersecretary for intelligence, said he would be a leader for the entire community and not favor the military. He said he would promptly share with the committee information on threats -- including raw intelligence -- even when threat assessments are not accepted by policymakers, saying he believes "strongly in the need for congressional oversight."

If confirmed, he would be the fourth director since the position was created in 2005, a reflection of the challenge of a job that critics have said confers responsibility without adequate budgetary or legal authority.

In response to questions, Clapper took issue with elements of The Post's series -- including that no one knows how much money the U.S. intelligence system costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist or how many agencies perform the same work.

In contrast to implications that the U.S. intelligence community is "completely out of control," Clapper said, "I believe it is under control." He said that ultimately "the common denominator is the money that is appropriated."

Clapper said, however, that although it is possible to count government employees doing intelligence work, "counting contractors is a little bit more difficult."

He disputed criticism of redundancy in intelligence programs, saying that duplication is sometimes a conscious decision. "One man's duplication is another man's competitive analysis," he said.

In opening the hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the committee, cited The Post's series in saying that Clapper, if confirmed, "faces major management challenges caused by the enormous growth" of the agencies and private-sector partners of the intelligence community.

She called on him to clearly express his commitment to "prevent sprawl, overlap and duplication" in the intelligence community.

Feinstein said the intelligence community needs "a strong leader" or else the "balkanization" of the 16 agencies that make it up will continue.

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