New intelligence chief Clapper brings sense of humor to serious job

By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 21, 2010

Let no one accuse the nation's new director of national intelligence of lacking a sense of humor.

In a PowerPoint briefing of senior staff last week, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper outlined his sober vision: to unite the traditionally separate missions of intelligence collection and analysis and to shrink and flatten the intelligence bureaucracy.

But he included a slide of the hood ornament from a Mack truck. Below the image was this phrase: "the only surviving sound-bite from 3+ hours." It was a wry reference to one of his more-memorable utterances from his July confirmation hearing, in which he pledged not to be a "titular figurehead or a hood ornament."

Clapper, 69, showed flashes of humor in the presentation, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, as well as an understanding that the intelligence community would benefit from better coordination. At the beginning of the PowerPoint, titled "Leading the IC: A 'Re-set," he repurposed an old cartoon by Post cartoonist Herblock that shows a disjointed complex of castle towers and other buildings, each flying a different spy agency flag, evoking the disunity of the intelligence community. The caption reads, "What's wrong with this picture?"

Clapper, now into his second week as DNI, is the fourth person to serve as intelligence director since the position was created in 2005. He replaced Adm. Dennis C. Blair, who was nudged out by the White House after clashes with CIA Director Leon Panetta.

In the presentation, he indicated that his approach would be reminiscent of his leadership of what was the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. The agency, which he ran from 2001 to 2006, was marked by "internal dysfunction," he said, and he set out to tear down the "two stovepipes" of the imagery and mapping functions. The agency was renamed the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to reflect a single mission.

Clapper, whose dislike for hierarchical organizations is well known, outlined a community structure that at least on paper looks relatively horizontal. He is, for instance, eliminating a layer of deputies at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and pushing their jobs down into the organization.

He has created the job of deputy director for intelligence integration to unify the collection and analysis tasks.

"It shows a refreshingly new way of thinking about what this job is about," said Mark M. Lowenthal, a former senior CIA official. "I'm upbeat about this job for the first time since it was created. It's our last chance to get it right."

Others said Clapper, who has also served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, might be flattening too much. "For his first shot, he's overshooting the mark and will trim back where it doesn't make sense," another former CIA official said. "He's not afraid to reorganize and reorganize and reorganize and reorganize. This is not a secret. Jim must have reorganized DIA and NGA 182 times. He's not afraid to second-guess himself."

In the presentation, Clapper held up as a role model Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who as CIA director from 1991 to 1993, led the intelligence community before there was a DNI. Gates had a long career in intelligence before becoming CIA director.

Clapper also took note of what he called in his presentation the "we-be" factor, the notion that there will always be "a cadre of people whose attitude is, 'We be here when you show up, and we be here when you leave,' " Lowenthal said.

In a nod to the importance of Congress, Clapper observed that "Keeping the Hill Happy" was "an imperative."

A final slide showed he was under no illusions about the pressure and expectations he faced. He had adapted a cartoon by Daryl Cagle of depicting a grim Clapper in an Uncle Sam hat at the wheel of a car, labeled "Leading the IC: A Re-set." The car is packed with children imploring: "Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?"

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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