Intelligence Chief Nominee Testifies On Capitol Hill On Tuesday, a Senate committee heard testimony from James Clapper, President Obama's nominee to become Director of National Intelligence, the top position in the intelligence community. There is a growing sense that the intelligence bureaucracy is unwieldy and that the DNI doesn't have the power to rein it in. Michele Norris talks to NPR's Rachel Martin, who is following the story.
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Intelligence Chief Nominee Testifies On Capitol Hill

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Intelligence Chief Nominee Testifies On Capitol Hill

Intelligence Chief Nominee Testifies On Capitol Hill

Intelligence Chief Nominee Testifies On Capitol Hill

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On Tuesday, a Senate committee heard testimony from James Clapper, President Obama's nominee to become Director of National Intelligence, the top position in the intelligence community. There is a growing sense that the intelligence bureaucracy is unwieldy and that the DNI doesn't have the power to rein it in. Michele Norris talks to NPR's Rachel Martin, who is following the story.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

It's one of the toughest jobs in government: overseeing the country's vast intelligence community. The title is Director of National Intelligence, or DNI. It's a position created to fix the nation's intelligence system after 9/11.

Since it was created, three people have held the job. Today, retired Air Force General James Clapper went to Capitol Hill to make the case to why he should be the fourth director in just five years.

NPR's national security correspondent Rachel Martin has been following General Clapper's confirmation hearing, and she joins me now in the studio.

Rachel, ever since the last DNI admiral, Dennis Blair, stepped down, there's been a lot of talk about whether or not the position has enough power. Did senators press General Clapper on this issue?

RACHEL MARTIN: Yeah. I mean, it's important to acknowledge that the DNI has been kind of hamstrung from the beginning. Lots of people will say that. Even officials within the DNI will admit to that. And it's worth pointing out, you know, this is a person who oversees 16 intelligence agencies, has to manage turf wars among the agencies who are really used to calling their own shots.

Now, they see the DNI as another layer of bureaucracy, even as a competitor. And this is a position that needs the support from the White House. Several people I spoke with said that this has been in short supply, not only in this administration but in the previous administration, that the DNI was never given the clout it needed by the White House in order to do its job effectively.

So this is clearly a very difficult job, so much so, that at one point during the committee hearing today, Senator Kit Bond, Republican from Missouri, wondered out loud why General Clapper would even want the job.

NORRIS: And one of the other challenges is the sheer size of the intelligence bureaucracy. This week, The Washington Post is running a series on the growth of the intelligence community, including the use of outside contractors. I assume that this probably came up today.

MARTIN: This was a big issue in the hearing today. Senators pressed General Clapper on this. And when he was asked directly about that contactor issue - are there too many as was indicated in that Post reporting - he replied that it's definitely something he wants to look into and would if he is to be confirmed.

And then when he was pressed again by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who asked him about the level of redundancy throughout the intelligence community, he said that some of that is actually intentional. Here's General Clapper.

Mr. JAMES CLAPPER (Retired U.S. Air Force General; Nominee, Director of National Intelligence): One man's duplication is another man's competitive analysis. That's not to say, sir, and I would not assert that this is completely efficient and that there isn't waste, there is. And, you know, the community does work to try to eliminate that.

MARTIN: So General Clapper wanted to make it clear to the committee that he understands that the intelligence community has gotten too big, too fast, and that some tough decisions have to be made.

NORRIS: Any indication of how much support he has. Do the senators think that he's the person to make these tough decisions?

MARTIN: Well, in some ways, Michele, he's actually what some of the members on Capitol Hill would consider to be their greatest fear. General Clapper is someone who has spent 46 years in the intelligence world, more than three decades of that spent in the military. And while there, he prioritized the protection of the interest of the Department of Defense.

The problem was sometimes doing that undercut the DNI. So now, if he's confirmed as the DNI, it's going to be his job to try to rein in all the agencies and operators who defended their turf just like he did.

NORRIS: I heard you say if he is confirmed. Is that likely to happen?

MARTIN: All indications are that he will be confirmed. A full Senate vote is expected to happen any time in the next couple of weeks.

NORRIS: That's NPR's national security correspondent Rachel Martin. Rachel, thanks so much.

MARTIN: You're welcome.

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