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Friday, March 11, 2011

What May Intel Folks Say?

The US Director of National Intelligence, General James R. Clapper Jr., is being taken to task for his comments before a Senate Committee regarding the situation in Libya.  He was asked what he thought and this is what The Washington Post said he said:
Clapper stepped into Thursday's controversy when he was asked to address the conflict in Libya. Gaddafi "appears to be hunkering down for the duration," the intelligence director said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, adding moments later that because the dictator has superior military resources "over the long term . . . the regime will prevail."
The White House fairly quickly distanced itself from the DNI.
Within hours, the White House was all but dismissing Clapper's remarks. National security adviser Thomas E. Donilon described Clapper's appraisal as "a static and one-dimensional assessment," reflecting the lopsided division of military assets in Libya but not other forces sweeping through the region.
What disappointed me was not the White House NSA, Mr Donilon, but Senator Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.).  He should know better.  Further, if the Senators on the Committee (and Senator Graham is one of them, albeit not present at that hearing) think that there might be an answer that calls into question some policy then they should go behind closed doors.

My conclusion is that it is likely never going to be possible for us to accept that Intel personnel should tell us what they believe to be the case, even if not politically acceptable.  And yet they should be encouraged to do so.

I have no opinion on General Clapper himself or his take on the situation (well, I hope he is wrong), but we need to encourage open expression of views and then can ignore them for operational reasons if we wish.

On the other hand, there is the view that Gen. Clapper is a senior Obama Administration appointee and the usual expectation is that he will support the President's policy or advise him and others privately, but not publicly undercut him.  "Not so much a question of political correctness as loyalty to the boss who gave you the job."  That is fine enough, but he shouldn't be lying to the US Congress.  He could avoid blurting out the truth, but he should never lie.

So, it all goes back to the US Senate not being smart enough to hold closed hearings.

In the mean time, if we are not going to expect Intelligence Specialists to "speak truth to power" we could save them a lot of frustration and us a lot of money by getting rid of them, at least at the higher reaches, and contracting for a clipping service.

UPDATE:  Here is the view from the Windy City, as articulated by Reporter Ken Dilanian.

Regards  —  Cliff

  General Curtis LeMay:  "Never lie to Congress.  You can avoid blurting out the truth, but never lie."

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