Obama DNI choice believes Syrians have Saddam's WMD?

Well, maybe he did at one point, so expect this to become a big deal in James Clapper’s confirmation hearings to replace Dennis Blair as the Director of National Intelligence.  Washington Times reporter Eli Lake did a little research on Barack Obama’s choice for the thankless position (Clapper would be the fourth DNI in five years) and discovered a nugget that comes straight out of the so-called neocon argument for war against Saddam Hussein:

President Obama’s choice to be the next director of national intelligence supported the view that Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq sent weapons and documents to Syria in the weeks before the 2003 U.S. invasion.

A senior U.S. intelligence official said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and current undersecretary of defense for intelligence, will be the next DNI. A formal announcemente is expected as early as Saturday. …

Gen. Clapper headed the National Geo-spatial Intelligence Agency between September 2001 to June 2006. The NGA is responsible for creating maps and terrestrial imagery and also assesses what is called “measurement and signature intelligence,” or MASINT, the intelligence function of analyzing such things as radar signals and the composition of air particles, soil samples and other physical characteristics of the earth.

On Iraq, Gen. Clapper said in an interview with The Washington Times in 2004 that “I think probably in the few months running up prior to the onset of combat that … there was probably an intensive effort to disperse into private homes, move documentation and materials out of the country. I think there are any number of things that they would have done.”

The comments came amid the debate over Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs, which some U.S. officials had said were moved out of Iraq prior to the invasion of Iraq with the assistance of Russian military intelligence forces.

From this description, it seems as though Clapper parsed his words carefully.  He never mentions WMD, at least not in the portion quoted by Lake.  However, there was no real reason to cart anything else out of Iraq just prior to the invasion.  Saddam Hussein certainly had plenty of conventional weapons, and no one had suggested that Saddam needed to disarm himself of those.  In fact, it would make no sense at all for Saddam to have moved conventional weapons out of Iraq just as the US poised to invade.

Clapper has some other problems as well.  Leadership in Congressional intel committees wanted a civilian in the post, and someone more closely tied to Obama himself.  The obvious choice would have been Leon Panetta, the CIA Director, but Panetta just won a big turf war with the departing Blair, which would have made that move a demotion in practical terms.  Likewise, Clapper has spent the last couple of years arguing that the Pentagon should have final authority over its intel budgets, not the DNI, which makes the position even weaker.

If anything, Clapper’s nomination to the post highlights both the lack of competence at the White House and the structural problems created by the reorganization of the intel communities five years ago.  Why would Obama choose someone who has spent the last couple of years attempting to make the position weaker?  And why are we still looking to find the next unlucky candidate to get all the blame and little authority, rather than undoing the 9/11 Commission “reform” and fixing the very obvious problems in organization, lines of authority, and turf battles in the American intelligence community?  Blair’s resignation gives us an opportunity to fix those problems, but Obama seems intent on making them even worse.