Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has been getting beat up because he got embarrassed by Diane Sawyer when he admitted he had no clue about a 12-person counterterrorism arrest in the UK earlier the day of the interview.
In an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, taped Monday afternoon, Clapper was asked about the arrests, which had happened hours before and were featured on all of the network morning news broadcasts. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Chief Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan, who were also participating in the joint interview, were aware of the arrests.
“First of all, London,” Sawyer began. “How serious is it? Any implication that it was coming here? … Director Clapper?”
“London?” Clapper said after a pause, before Brennan entered the conversation explaining the arrests.
Later in the interview, Sawyer returned to the subject.
“I was a little surprised you didn’t know about London,” Sawyer told Clapper.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t,” he replied.
As a threshold matter, it would be the intelligence community’s fault as a whole if Clapper should have been, but wasn’t, briefed about this arrest (the Administration has explained that Clapper was involved in START Treaty briefings all day Monday, and so didn’t get briefed), not Clapper alone. But I’m also wondering whether there’s more to his not getting briefed.
Note, first of all, that there are two kinds of briefings Clapper might have–but apparently didn’t–get: briefing about the investigation itself, and a briefing about the arrests, either before or after they happened.
Here’s some of what we know about the investigation and raid:
- The investigation, which has been going on for months, has been described as “intelligence-driven”
- Authorities triggered the raid after intercepted communications revealed the plotters were preparing to act
- Britian’s Home Secretary was told of the raids during the week of December 12 through 18
- Lord Alex Carlile, who acts as a watchdog on UK terrorism operations, also described watching one of the operations involved in the investigation
- The group has ties to a known (and banned) British radical Muslim group
- Like many of the recent arrests in the US, this group is alleged to have been influenced by Anwar al-Awlaki
- Muslim leaders in Cardiff tipped authorities off to a group of radicalized youth though MI5 seemed to already bee aware of the group; the group held a meeting two weeks ago attended by up to 30 people