Former spy chief comments on ‘broken’ clearance system, ‘too much Big Brother’

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James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence who resigned at the end of President Obama’s administration — and who once controversially denied that the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy collects data on its own citizens just months before leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden showed that to be untrue — is seemingly willing to be more candid since retiring, based on recent comments.

“The clearance system we have is broken,” Clapper reportedly said at last week’s Gigamon Federal Cybersecurity Summit. “We need to attract new people, new young people, to the intelligence community. And they’re going to say, ‘You know, there’s too much Big Brother. There’s too much invasiveness and intrusiveness in my life, so I don’t think I’m going to work here.’ I worry about that,” he added.

In contrast with other recent suggestions from current and former members of the national security establishment that automation will solve a vast array of military and intelligence problems, from the “insider threat” of leaks to the reform of would-be jihadists, Clapper downplayed its importance.

“With all the fancy algorithms, it takes people to interpret what’s really going on,” he reportedly said, adding that it would be impossible to ever stop 100 percent of leaks because of this human element.

“In the end, our whole system, though, is based on personal trust. I don’t care how many mousetraps we build into the system, if people are committed to spilling sensitive information, they’ll find a way to do it,” Clapper reportedly said.

The “broken” nature of the security clearance system to which Clapper referred presumably also includes that it was massively compromised by the 2014 hack of the Office of Personnel Management — the federal agency in charge of the in-depth background checks for cleared individuals — which exposed information on tens of millions of federal employees and job applicants and has reportedly been tied to Chinese hackers. Despite no longer serving in an official capacity as DNI, though, Clapper did not offer any new change of perspective on whether the US should have retaliated against China for the OPM hack.

“People who live in glass houses,” he said.

He did, however, comment on the ongoing investigations into Russian influence operations targeting the US election. “To me, the major message here for we as a people, we as a country, is the Russians attempting to mess with one of the underlying foundational pillars of this country. And that, to me, is an assault on us and that’s what people need to understand,” Clapper said. He jokingly added that his scheduled upcoming testimony on the topic was sure to be a “non-controversial, fun session” and said it was a “great time to be” retired.

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