President Obama's choice to head the intelligence community pledged to tighten controls over budgets and programs for the far-flung 16 U.S. spy agencies that the director of national intelligence (DNI) is charged with overseeing.
In a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr. said he would "push the envelope on programming and budgeting."
The retired three-star general argued when he recently held the post of undersecretary of defense for intelligence that military intelligence programs were not under the control of the office of the director of national intelligence, the post of intelligence czar created under a 2005 reorganization law.
In his testimony, Mr. Clapper defended his previous position on the matter, noting that he was doing his job as an undersecretary of defense. "If confirmed as DNI, I will be equally assiduous in making sure the DNI's authorities are advanced," he said.
The debate over DNI authorities has been contentious in recent years as the office is now preparing for its fourth director in five years. Two of the four previous Senate-confirmed directors said publicly that the law needs to be changed in order to clarify the powers of the DNI over intelligence budgets — estimated at about $40 billion annually — and programs.
Dennis C. Blair, the last confirmed DNI, clashed with the CIA over who had the authority to appoint CIA station chiefs for U.S. embassies, a job traditionally taken by the CIA chief of station. The CIA reportedly won the battle.
In the hearing, Mr. Clapper said, "I would not have agreed to take this position on if I were going to be a titular figurehead or a hood ornament. I believe that the position of director of national intelligence is necessary, and whether it's the construct we have now or the director of central intelligence in the old construct, there needs to be a clear, defined, identifiable leader of the intelligence community to exert direction and control over the entirety of that community, given its diversity and its heterogeneity, if you will, the 16 components that you mentioned."
Mr. Clapper faced his toughest questioning from the vice chairman of the intelligence committee, Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican. Mr. Bond asked Mr. Clapper what he would do as DNI if the undersecretary of defense for intelligence drafted a memo for the Armed Services Committee alerting its members to changes to the intelligence authorization that would curb the defense secretary's authorities.
Mr. Clapper had done just that earlier this year. In response to the question, he said, "I probably would have chastised him for not having provided a copy to the staff paper that was exchanged in response to requests from the House Armed Services Committee staff. And in retrospect, it would have been better had I seen to it that a copy of that went to the respective intelligence committees," Mr. Clapper said.
Mr. Clapper also promised to provide the committee with intelligence reports on the remaining inmates of the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison. He also said he would conduct oversight of the predator drone programs current run in Pakistan by the CIA and in other theaters by the U.S. military.
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