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.
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. President Obama announced Gen. Clapper as his nominee Saturday, saying he must not fall victim to Washington politics.
He will replace retired Adm. Dennis Blair, who resigned after 16 months in the position following several disputes with other intelligence leaders and, in particular, the CIA.
Gen. Clapper’s selection is a rebuke to senior members of the congressional oversight committees who had said they hoped Mr. Obama would nominate a civilian as his top intelligence adviser and someone with whom the president shares a personal relationship.
Gen. Clapper will be the fourth director of national intelligence since the position was created in 2005 to oversee and coordinate all 16 independent intelligence agencies.
Two former DNIs, John Negroponte and Navy Adm. Mike McConnell, have said Congress needs to fix the law to give the director more authority over the budgets of the 16 intelligence agencies.
Gen. Clapper, according to one senior intelligence official, has argued inside the government that the secretary of defense had veto authority over the office of the DNI with regard to military intelligence budgets. Eighty-five percent of the intelligence budget goes to military or Pentagon programs, such as spy satellites and electronic eavesdropping.
In his new job, Gen. Clapper may find himself making the opposite argument.
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.
The Iraq Survey Group, the U.S. panel formed to find the weapons of mass destruction President George W. Bush had said Saddam Hussein was concealing, turned up no stockpiles of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
Whether or not Iraq moved some elements of its weapons programs to Syria before the war remains a matter of dispute.
Theodre Kattouf, the U.S. ambassador in Damascus in 2002 and 2003, said in 2006 that he did not believe Iraq sent material to Syria in the run up to the war.
John A. Shaw, a senior Pentagon technology security official during the Bush administration, however, said he believed that some Iraqi weapons and materials were covertly shipped out of Iraqi factories with the help of the Russians. Satellite images released in 2004 by the Pentagon also showed Russian vehicles loading goods at Iraqi factories, but the nature of their cargo has not been determined.
Mr. Shaw has said Gen. Clapper was present at a meeting of East European intelligence officials who disclosed the Russian role in moving the Iraqi material out of the country.
David Kay, the first head of the ISG, said in 2004 that he believed there were small numbers of weapons sent to Syria before the war.
The director of the ISG after Mr. Kay, Charles Duelfer, said in his preamble to the September 30, 2004 report that his “ability to gather information was in most ways more limited than was that of United Nations inspectors,” noting that many laboratories and arsenals were reduced to rubble from the war and were then subsequently looted.
Senior Israeli military officers have said their country snapped line of sight photographs of convoys leaving Iraq for Syria before the war that may have carried sensitive technology.