When asked how far along he is in "integrating" U.S. intelligence-gathering—his primary task—Clapper retorts: "Compared to what? If I go back to when I started in this business, it's kind of light years." But he cautions, "It's not something that will be done by the close of business next Friday."
In an interview with National Journal, the blunt Clapper also commented on the intelligence community's handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi, Libya, that left U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead. "The major lesson I learned from that is, don't do talking points," Clapper said, referring to the uproar over remarks that then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice made on television after the attack, based on a brief summary given to her by the intelligence community.
Clapper, 72, a retired Air Force lieutenant general, held many military intelligence positions during his 32 years in uniform, which included two combat tours in Vietnam. Hailing from Fort Wayne, Ind., he began his career as a rifleman in the Marine Corps Reserve and earned a bachelor's degree in government and politics from the University of Maryland and a master's in political science from St. Mary's University in San Antonio.
Clapper served as the first civilian director of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, transforming it into its successor, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. He was appointed DNI in 2010 and three years later suddenly found himself bracketed by two major events with contradictory implications. The first was the Boston Marathon bombings, which made it clear that, even now, various agencies that handle intelligence are not as integrated as they could be. The second came when the NSA's surveillance program was exposed by leaker Edward Snowden. Because investigators believe Snowden may have had too much access, Clapper suddenly faced the task of reintroducing "siloing" to intelligence, reducing integration.
Clapper was also saddled with credibility issues in the wake of the NSA scandal. At a hearing in March, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked Clapper, "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" Clapper responded, "No, sir." When Wyden followed up by asking, "It does not?" Clapper said: "Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect—but not wittingly." Asked by NJ for clarification, Clapper replied: "What I said was, the NSA does not voyeuristically pore through U.S. citizens' e-mails. I stand by that." But a few weeks later he issued an apology for his testimony, calling it "clearly erroneous."