Feinstein Wants to Give Intel Chief New Powers More Than She Wants James Clapper in the Job

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010 at 6:05 pm

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has been lukewarm at best about Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence James Clapper becoming the next director of national intelligence. And in a new statement, she says that she wants to strengthen the DNI’s authorities first and wait to ask Clapper what he thinks about those authorities second.

The long statement conspicuously withholds approval for Clapper’s nomination. “I am very much in favor of a strong DNI, which I believe to be essential to national security,” Feinstein clarifies, and to that end, she says she wants to hear what Clapper thinks of the expanded authorities for the job that she put in last year’s intelligence bill. (The relevant sections begin with Section 303, for those keeping score.) Before she takes up Clapper’s nomination in committee — “we are now preparing questions,” she pledges ominously — she wants the committee to finalize next year’s intelligence bill, and strongly hints that bill will contain provisions that give the nation’s top intelligence chief greater authority over the Defense Department intelligence assets Clapper currently overseas.

Key to Clapper’s nomination, Feinstein hints, is his answer to “whether he believes a stronger DNI would weaken the authorities of the Secretary of Defense.” That’s the oversight equivalent of a well-forecast high inside fastball. But Clapper hinted in April that he doesn’t believe a DNI should hit for power. I’m going to stop this metaphor. But clearly the central question surrounding Clapper’s prospects for becoming DNI is, to put it cynically, whether he’ll tell Feinstein what she wants to hear.

The full statement follows:

“I intend to meet with General James R. Clapper in the next couple of days to discuss his nomination to be the next Director of National Intelligence. In line with the standard Committee process for reviewing nominees, we are now preparing questions for General Clapper to answer before we will hold a confirmation hearing.

I intend for the Committee to do its due diligence on General Clapper’s nomination, as we do for all nominees. I am particularly interested in his views on the powers of the DNI, the appropriate role of the DNI with respect to agencies within the Department of Defense, and his views on the importance and appropriate role of congressional oversight of intelligence.

I believe that any DNI will be effective only if he has the authority – both on paper and in practice – to oversee and have strategic direction over the 16 agencies that make up the Intelligence Community. I am very much in favor of a strong DNI, which I believe to be essential to national security. The Fiscal Year 2010 Intelligence Authorization bill provides additional authorities and flexibilities for the DNI, and I will ask General Clapper his view of those provisions, and whether he believes a stronger DNI would weaken the authorities of the Secretary of Defense.

The Intelligence Authorization bill is the Committee’s top priority right now. We have already begun to review General Clapper’s record, and I would intend to take up his nomination once the authorization bill is passed.”

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