Immediately after James Clapper professed ignorance of the arrests in the UK of a dozen suspected terrorists during an ABC News interview, the Obama administration denied that Clapper hadn’t been briefed on the news. They blamed Diane Sawyer for asking an “ambiguous” question. However, as Jake Tapper reports, the White House admitted this morning that Clapper hadn’t been briefed at all:
After initially suggesting that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s inability to answer a question from ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer about the arrests of 12 suspected terrorists in London was because her question was too “ambiguous,” the Obama administration acknowledged Wednesday morning that retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Clapper had not been briefed about the arrests at the time of the interview.
“Director Clapper had not yet been briefed on the arrests in the United Kingdom at the time of this interview taping,” said ODNI spokeswoman Jamie Smith in a statement.
Clapper, she explained, had been “working throughout the day on important intelligence matters, including monitoring military and political developments on the Korean Peninsula, providing answers to questions concerning the ratification of the START nuclear treaty, and other classified issues. He wasn’t immediately briefed on London because it didn’t appear to have a homeland nexus and there was no immediate action by the DNI required. Nevertheless, he should have been briefed on the arrests, and steps have been taken to ensure that he is in the future. The intelligence community as a whole was fully aware of this development and tracking it closely.”
So, now we have Clapper not being briefed, and the White House not being briefed on Clapper not being briefed. It’s a festival of incompetence! Wouldn’t it have been better to actually pick up the phone and ask Clapper whether he had been briefed before blaming Sawyer for confusing him?
This explanation also stretches credulity to the breaking point. Clapper is not in charge of Homeland Security; he runs the National Intelligence Coordination Center, whose scope is global. In fact, it’s specific mission is to focus on all threats and act as a clearinghouse of intel for the entire American intelligence community. And how do we know there isn’t a homeland nexus? The man running American intel and in charge of the NICC didn’t even know about it. Did the NICC know about it? If they did, shouldn’t someone have picked up a phone and told the boss?
Besides, how difficult would it have been to brief Clapper on the arrests? By the time of the interview, all anyone had to do was print out any of dozens of media reports on the topic, if for no other reason than to let him know they occurred. If the DNI is too busy to get briefed, well, perhaps Congress needs to reorganize the intel community again, and this time properly, to reduce rather than expand the bureaucratic baggage.
Update 12/23: The name of the center is the National Intelligence Coordination Center (NICC). I had previously left out “Coordination.”