Director of National Intelligence James Clapper announced his resignation this week, following Donald Trump’s election win. Clapper, who endured a few controversies in his six years as DNI, will step down from his position January.
Clapper’s most memorable moment in the media spotlight was probably following his congressional testimony in 2013, when he answered a question from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) as to whether the NSA collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans” by saying “no, sir” and “not wittingly.” That testimony in March of 2013 apparently prompted whistleblower Edward Snowden to make the final move in his plan to leak details about NSA spying.
“It’s like the boiling frog,” Snowden later told Wired. “You get exposed to a little bit of evil, a little bit of rule-breaking, a little bit of dishonesty, a little bit of deceptiveness, a little bit of disservice to the public interest, and you can brush it off, you can come to justify it. But if you do that, it creates a slippery slope that just increases over time, and by the time you’ve been in 15 years, 20 years, 25 years, you’ve seen it all and it doesn’t shock you. And so you see it as normal. And that’s the problem, that’s what the Clapper event was all about. He saw deceiving the American people as what he does, as his job, as something completely ordinary.”
Within a few months of Clapper’s Senate testimony, Snowden’s leaks exposed Clapper’s statement as misleading at best. Sen. Wyden would later say that Clapper made “a deliberate decision to lie to the American people,” while others including Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) have renewed calls for Clapper to be charged with perjury following his resignation announcement.
Clapper himself has defended his answer to Wyden as the “least most untruthful” he could give, but has also acknowledged that it was “clearly erroneous.” A website dedicated to Clapper’s odd answer to Wyden’s question, hasjamesclapperbeenindictedyet.com, notes that it has been 1347 days since Clapper’s statement as of this writing.
His 2013 testimony on domestic surveillance issues, however, has not been the only source of controversy related to Clapper’s tenure as DNI. This year, just over one month before last week’s election, the Office of the DNI and the Department of Homeland Security issued a joint statement that the US Intelligence Community was “confident” in its assessment “that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations,” which had largely targeted the Democratic Party.
This statement was used by Hillary Clinton in the final days of her doomed campaign to claim that “17 of our intelligence agencies have confirmed” that “Putin himself” was directing the hacking “to influence our election.” While it is true that the ODNI and DHS oversee 17 member agencies of the Intelligence Community, the decision to issue the joint statement in October ultimately rested with Clapper and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson. While Clinton seized on the statement as proof that voters should disregard any hacked emails, she blamed FBI Director James Comey’s statements about a quickly-opened-and-closed second investigation into her email controversy in the final days of the campaign for her loss.
With the election over, Clapper is apparently done pointing fingers at the Kremlin, or at least satisfied that Trump’s win didn’t result from Russian hacking to alter vote counts.
“I know a lot of people have been feeling uncertain about what will happen with this Presidential transition,” Clapper reportedly said yesterday. “There has been a lot of catastrophizing, if I can use that term, in the 24-hour news cycle and social media. So, I’m here with a message: It will be okay.”
It may be okay, but Clapper will not be sticking around to take the blame for it if it’s not. Candidates for his replacement, to be appointed by Trump, reportedly include Dutch-born American politician Pete Hoekstra (R-Michigan), as well as Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California), according to an article by a former NSA analyst, John Schindler, on the website of the New York Observer, which is published by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. “The person the IC does not want as the new DNI is Mike Flynn, the controversial former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency who’s been Trump’s right-hand man on national security matters throughout his campaign,” Schindler writes.
As with many questions now anxiously awaiting answers, we’ll just have to wait and see what decision our unpredictable president-elect makes with regard to who will soon run the US Intelligence Community.