Holding Up Intelligence Reform, Clapping to Administration Demands

So after a last minute dance with three Republican holds, James Clapper is poised to be confirmed as Director of National Intelligence. As I noted before, this means someone most Senators either have or have had concerns about will be approved by big numbers to head our intelligence community.

But the more important story about this nomination seems to be about holds and reform.

As I noted before, John McCain briefly put a hold on Clapper’s nomination. As Marc Ambinder explains, he did so as leverage to demand information on a satellite program over which Congress and the Administration has clashed.

The Director of National Intelligence’s office has sent Sen. John McCain’s office its top secret report on the development of two “tier-two” electro-optical satellites that Congress doesn’t want funded but the intelligence establishment believes it desperately needs. Neither McCain’s office, the White House, nor the DNI would confirm that McCain was seeking information about the highly classified development program, nor would they say why it took so long to send McCain the report he requested.

In parallel with McCain’s hold, Kit Bond and Tom Coburn–who, as Senate Intelligence Committee members, both voted for Clapper’s nomination in the Committee–put a hold on Clapper’s nomination as leverage to get a report on threat assessments of people at Gitmo.

The Cable caught up with Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, who said that two other senators were holding up the nomination, committee ranking Republican Kit Bond, R-MO, and Tom Coburn, R-OK. The senators wanted ODNI to deliver an overdue threat assessment on the prisoners being held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.


Bond told The Cable Tuesday that he is getting the information he desires.

“Today I talked to General Clapper and I’m pleased the intelligence community is now working to provide the documents and access that I — and other members — have been seeking and that they are required by law to share with lawmakers,” he said.

Coburn also denied he has a formal “hold” on Clapper but said he was worried about the Guantánamo threat assessment.

“I think it’s important that we look at the vast number of people that have been released under the Bush administration and the Obama administration from Guantánamo who are now trying to kill American soldiers,” he said. “And I think that information is due and the intelligence committee ought to be getting it. So I am trying to do whatever I can to make good decisions.”

So prepare for James Clapper to take over at DNI!

And with his confirmation, expect Congress to lose the leverage it had to force the Administration to accept some real intelligence reform, reform that would, among other things, require Presidential Administrations to share information required by Congress more readily and widely.

So note the irony. The Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain, had to put a hold on this urgent nomination to get information that he doesn’t get (Ambinder says the Gang of Eight gets briefed on it, but not SASC; I think it more likely that a few members of the Senate Appropriations Committee get briefed on it, but neither the Gang of Eight nor the leadership of SASC). And the Ranking Member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Kit Bond (as well as Tom Coburn, who never met a hold he didn’t like), had to put a hold on this urgent nomination to get information he hadn’t get but was entitled to by law.

And yet no one finds this state of affairs urgent enough to make real changes in intelligence oversight such that individual Senators don’t have to find similar holds with which to gain enough leverage to get the information they need to do their job?

  1. klynn says:

    This is a sad day for US citizens. Thanks for the update on this EW. Clapper’s selection makes no sense in so many ways, as far as the Constitution is concerned.

    Last sentence in second to last paragraph:

    had to put a hold on this urgent nomination to get information he hadn’t get received but was entitled to by law.

  2. onitgoes says:

    Pathetic but totally unsurprising. Meet the new boss; same as the old boss…. We’ve certainly learned by now that BHO is only going to (cough cough) “lead” in the same way that W did. What else is new?

    • dick c says:

      Not only ‘in the same way,’ but to the same place. Too bad the people of the country don’t have the necessary clearance to find out where that actually is. Hell in a hand-basket most likely.

  3. fuzed says:

    Um what does all that have to do with the primaries and elections? Jeez, the concern/gravitas/seriousness they exhibited radiates out well to all the MSM, what else do you want.

  4. BayStateLibrul says:

    Saw Coburn and McCain on CNBC last night.

    McCain looks like he is habitually stoned.

    He can’t form sentences anymore..

    So glad we have Obama, when you think of the alternative.

  5. Frank33 says:

    I am totally confused by all the new Spy Warlords. Who are they and what do they do? Or is that secret? Why was Dennis Blair fired? I read he wanted to be allowed to spy on the other spies. Is Clapper a dedicated neo-con or is he a dedicated crazy neo-con?

    But the privatized Spy Warlords never go away and who knows what they do. Previously Michael Hayden spied on everyone for the NSA. Michael Hayden is now involved in some privatized neutralizing operations against WikiLeaks.

    It’s a tragedy. And innocents will die…

    On top of last summer’s voluntary disclosure by the administration of CIA covert actions in America’s previous interrogation program (over the objection of the current CIA director and seven of his predecessors), what liaison service in the world will now accept any assurances that we can protect their secrets? Or protect their identity? Or be consistent in our policy?…

    And all of this because of some corrupted view of the inherent evils of the modern state, a pseudo-romantic attachment to the absolute value of transparency, a casual indifference to inevitable consequences and a neurotic attachment to one individual’s self importance. Rarely have we seen such a dangerous combination of arrogance and incompetence.

    • michaelfishman says:

      And all of this because of some corrupted view of the inherent evils of the modern state, a pseudo-romantic attachment to the absolute value of transparency, a casual indifference to inevitable consequences and a neurotic attachment to one individual’s self importance. Rarely have we seen such a dangerous combination of arrogance and incompetence.

      Does anybody (anybody!) believe that Hayden wrote that himself? Any idea who gave it to him?

      But my real question to EW:

      …had to put a hold on this urgent nomination…

      (and repeated at least once)

      Being kind of dense, I have to ask…did you mean that sarcastically? (Or ironically?)
      Because I figure ODNI is about as urgent as which salad dressing to use. (Or maybe not.)

  6. Hugh says:

    Our political system is totally corrupt. How can we expect reform to occur in it? And seriously who thinks Kit Bond or John McCain cares a whit about reform? Clapper is as good a corporatist as another to be DNI, and while in theory that is the top post in intelligence, in practice it is decidedly second tier. Congressional oversight? That’s fast becoming a bipartisan oxymoron.

    • Jeff Kaye says:

      I second these comments. I’d only rewrite “fast becoming” to the more succinct “is,” as in “Congressional oversight? That is a bipartisan oxymoron.” Or as Leonard Cohen might but it, “a shining artifact of the past.”

      Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
      Everybody knows that the captain lied
      Everybody got this broken feeling
      Like their father or their dog just died

  7. skdadl says:

    OT: Khadr, but not Omar — instead, his brother Abdullah: Ontario court rejects U.S. extradition request:

    Extradition orders to the U.S. are rarely denied, but Superior Court Justice Christopher Speyer ruled Wednesday that “this was an exceptional case on many levels.”

    The ruling comes just days before Khadr’s younger brother Omar goes on trial for war crimes in Guantanamo.

    Reading passages from his 62-page decision, Speyer told a Toronto court that setting aside the extradition order was a “remedy of last resort” required in this case due to the fact that Khadr was illegally held and interrogated.

    Khadr’s lawyers Nathan Whitling and Dennis Edney had argued that extraditing Khadr would mean Canada supports countries that violate international law.

    Pakistan was paid a $500,000 (US) bounty to arrest Khadr in 2004. He was held without charges for 14 months and interrogated by intelligence and police agents from the U.S., Pakistan and Canada.

    Re an appeal, I’m not sure who “government lawyers” means here. If these are Ontario gov’t lawyers, they may not be under the same perverse political pressure that the feds are from Steve, but I don’t know how the appeal process would work.

  8. newbroomparty says:

    As the Washington Post has documented in its article Top Secret America America is now under a onslaught of domestic spooks — many times working as independent contractors to circumvent the constitutional and legislated protections we supposedly have.

    Consider the following from their report:

    “The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work” the Post’s Dana Priest and William Arkin write. “After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.”

    “Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.”

    “An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.”

    “In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings — about 17 million square feet of space.”

    “51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks,” and “Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year — a volume so large that many are routinely ignored”

    And, we don’t even know what the budget cost is:

    “The U.S. intelligence budget is vast, publicly announced last year as $75 billion, 2 1/2 times the size it was on Sept. 10, 2001. But the figure doesn’t include many military activities or domestic counterterrorism programs.”

    9/11 became the basis of an unprecedented gutting of individual privacy and constitutional rights, and an every expanding bureaucracy of ‘intelligence gathering’ that is increasingly turning its attention inward towards the very people it is supposed to protect — the American People.

    Talk of reform of the intelligence bureaucracy is a joke. With 854,000 top secret people working in 10,000 American cities, reporting to 51 different federal organizations, Congress has created a monster that it keeps feeding with more money.

  9. rmwarnick says:

    Did anybody ask Clapper how the search for Saddam’s WMD is going? Didn’t he say they were in Syria?

  10. djfourmoney says:

    You didn’t really say loosing another chance at reform?

    Name some actual reform they have done…. I’m waiting