Key Congressman Says Pentagon's Clapper Is Wrong Man for Intelligence Czar

A key Capitol Hill Republican says retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper, the Defense Department's top intelligence official, would be the wrong person to replace outgoing National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who chaired the House intelligence committee when Republicans held a House majority and today remains the panel's ranking minority member, tells Declassified that in his experience, Clapper is "not forthcoming, open, or transparent" in his dealings with congressional oversight committees, and therefore would not be suited to a job whose key responsibilities include maintaining cordial (if not warm) relations between the U.S. intelligence community and Congress.

Clapper, currently undersecretary of defense for intelligence, would be "exactly the wrong person" for President Obama to appoint as intelligence czar, Hoekstra says, because "the guy doesn't believe there is a role for Congress" in the intelligence process. (Neither Clapper's office nor a Pentagon spokesman had any immediate response to Hoekstra's criticisms.) "He doesn't like our oversight," the congressman says, complaining that Clapper acts as if Congress is an "unnecessary participant in the [intelligence] process." Hoekstra says there's nothing personal between him and Clapper: "I like General Clapper," he says. "[But] there's a difference between liking a guy and accepting his attitude to Congress." By contrast, Hoekstra, a frequent critic of the Obama administration's national-security and intelligence policies, says he gives "a tremendous amount of credit" both to Blair, whose resignation as intelligence czar was abruptly accepted by Obama last week, and to CIA Director Leon Panetta, who bested Blair in some key bureaucratic turf fights, for working closely with Congress and doing their best to maintain good relations with legislators.

Hoekstra, a veteran GOP legislator from Michigan, goes so far as to blame Clapper, or at least his office at the Pentagon, for a hostile reception the congressman received when he traveled to Yemen on New Year's Day this year. Hoekstra had gone there at least in part to ask questions about the Christmas Day incident in which Nigerian-born Islamic militant Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound transatlantic flight with a bomb stashed in his underpants. Investigators now believe the bomb was supplied by operatives of Al Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate, which calls itself Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Hoekstra says he had hoped to learn from U.S. Embassy officials in Yemen about the investigation into the failed underpants attack, including the role allegedly played by Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born jihadist cleric now based in Yemen. Instead, Hoekstra says, embassy officials said they had received explicit instructions from Washington: "Don't share anything with Hoekstra." Hoekstra says he believes the embassy got its orders from Clapper or his subordinates at the Pentagon, although he adds they in turn may have been directed by the White House.

As we reported on Monday, Clapper, who once headed two Pentagon-controlled intelligence agencies (the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency), is widely regarded inside and outside the spy world as the favorite to succeed Blair. However, as we also reported, numerous national-security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have raised questions about Clapper's relations with Congress, suggesting that he was unresponsive in briefings and that his subordinates were slow in dealing with congressional inquiries. Now Hoekstra has sharpened some of these complaints about Clapper's dealings with Congress and put them on the record, perhaps making Obama's effort to find a new intelligence czar more difficult than ever.