A senior White House official recently described the Office of the Director of National Intelligence this way: "After 9/11, we panicked and created a zombie. Then we realized it was a distraction. Then we tried to kill it. But it lived. And now we've got to deal with it." It's hard to imagine Gen. James Clapper (Ret.) taking a job he knew commanded so little respect inside the White House, and, indeed, across the intelligence community. But take it he did.
His confirmation hearings began today with a series of pointed exchanges, with senators and Clapper mouthing tropes that are familiar to viewers of the this zombie horror film. Yes, he believes in a strong and independent DNI, albeit a DNI that does not duplicate the statutory role that agency chiefs play.
He believes the intelligence budget number should be declassified. He believes that the DNI should have stronger authority relative to the Central Intelligence Agency. He's aghast at the state of information technology across the community, wondering why there's no single major counter-terrorism database with a robust search capacity instead of 50 some odd databases with varying degrees of technological sophistication.
He did not bring to the committee a significant, new theory of the case. Mostly, his message was implicit, or explicit when he interrupted senators: I'm tough, I'm not going to take bullshit or bullshit you, and I'm going to make this work. I'm also not going to attempt to run everything.