Tempers flare between lawmakers, intel chief over open hearings

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The director of national intelligence said Thursday he does not like being asked questions in public about the activities he oversees, telling lawmakers his efforts to avoid spilling secrets sometimes make him look as if he has something to hide.

“Our attempts to avoid revealing classified information sometimes lead to misinterpretation or accusations that we’re being circumspect for improper reasons,” James R. Clapper told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence during a hearing on global threats to U.S. security.

“I have serious reservations about conducting open hearings on the worldwide threat, especially the question-and-answer sessions,” Mr. Clapper said, adding that the public could get informed through unclassified statements for the record and that “we’re ready to answer any [and] all of your questions in closed session.

“But an open hearing on intelligence matters is something of a contradiction in terms,” he said, noting that statements could be reviewed in advance to ensure they reveal no classified information but answers to questions could not.

“So when we ask to discuss certain matters in closed session, it’s not to evade but rather to, one, protect our intelligence sources and methods; and two, to be sensitive to the often delicate relations we have with our allies and partners. They and our adversaries all carefully listen to and watch these hearings as well, as I’ve learned the hard way,” he said.

Rep. Michael Rogers, Michigan Republican and committee chairman, said he was “disappointed” that Mr. Clapper chose to raise the issue.

“If we’re going to maintain public trust and not breed public mistrust, it is very important, I argue extremely important, that they have the opportunity to have a public interaction with the agencies of which they support not only with their hearts but with their wallets,” Mr. Rogers said. “But I will note for the record that you were dragged kicking and screaming to the committee today.”

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About the Author
Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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