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Posted at 9:00 PM ET, 12/21/2010

Clapper flunks ABC's quiz on London terror case

By Jeff Stein

The head of U.S. intelligence, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr., went blank when asked about a roundup of suspected terrorists in London that had happened only hours earlier.

ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer’s Monday interview with Clapper, the director of national intelligence, along with homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano and White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan, aired on Tuesday night.

The arrest of 12 suspects in London had occurred earlier on Monday, when the three were interviewed together.

"First of all, London," Sawyer said. "How serious is it? Any implication that it was coming here? ... Director Clapper?"

Clapper hesitated for several seconds, clearly having no clue what Sawyer was talking about.

"London?" he asked. Seven seconds had passed. The intelligence boss looked to Brennan for a lifeline.

Brennan started explaining the arrests that morning.

“Oh…” Clapper said, nodding, hands on his thighs.

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 said, shaking his head.

Brennan said the question was too “vague.”

Brennan and Napolitano said that the alleged plot would not have threatened the United States.

A spokesperson for the DNI later said, "The question about this specific news development was ambiguous. The DNI's knowledge of the threat streams in Europe is profound and multi-dimensional, and any suggestion otherwise is inaccurate."

Asked whether there were any current threats, Napolitano said U.S. intelligence was picking up “a lot of chatter” but “nothing specific and credible.”

“You all sleep well at night?” Sawyer next asked all three.

“When we get to sleep,” Clapper said, “yes we do.”

By Jeff Stein  | December 21, 2010; 9:00 PM ET
Categories:  Homeland Security, Intelligence, Media  
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Next: For Britain and Russia, another round of spy wars


Video here:

Posted by: SezHere | December 21, 2010 11:57 PM | Report abuse

eye candy gone bad.

create the fear.

then forget the plan.

Posted by: xxxxxx1 | December 22, 2010 1:06 AM | Report abuse

The public needs to demand that James Clapper be fired immediately. I for one do not feel safe with this person in charge of National Intelligence. Doesn't even have the sense to get briefed or watch the news before an important interview. How detached is this guy. Check out our current Commander and Chief's nomination of him......

Posted by: kel_ncast | December 22, 2010 1:38 AM | Report abuse

kel_ncas wrote:
". . . current Commander and Chief. . . ."


By any chance, do you mean 'Commander in Chief'?

'In', not 'and'.

With your exhibited 'knowledge' of the 'characters in the play', maybe we should listen to someone who has a better grasp of the situation.

Posted by: critter69 | December 22, 2010 3:21 AM | Report abuse

Clapper can't comment on things that are made up and used to keep citizens in line by using fear. Ask him what is done to people like the 44 year old African-American man from the Petworth area of D.C. who make false reports of terrorism against people who tick him off such as, family members, neighbors, and co-workers just because they tick him off. This growing trend is going to become a nightmare for innocent citizens with no ties to terrorism unless the DHS, FBI, NSA, and others find a way to stop it. Instead, they encourage these false reports because it gives them something they know is a lie, to report. They need to prosecute people like that D.C. man who continues this day, making false reports of terrorism as a way to get revenge against people. If you pay him a fee, he will make false terrorist reports against your enemy. Meanwhile, we give up our rights and privacy in the name of safety.

Posted by: cogic4902 | December 22, 2010 3:35 AM | Report abuse

Clapper, do not go back and fire your staff. Simply resign in the spirit of the dignity and trust you promised your the post your country has entrusted to you.

Posted by: gone2dabeachgmailcom | December 22, 2010 4:00 AM | Report abuse

Much ado about nothing. Diane asked an awkward, incomplete question without context -- her producers are at fault here.

Posted by: jjoyner2 | December 22, 2010 5:31 AM | Report abuse

Just another goofy Sawyer moment at the "new ABC News". Sawyer is the absolute worst journalist in broadcast history --- a SNL joke that repeats everything for emphasis that her reporters just said and never articulates a straight question. You just get that lowered brow and jutted chin like she's having an on-air bowel movement. The onlt thing that stunned me is that she didn't do a follow-up piece with her favorite boy-toy Richard Besser to get his take on it. Every night it's Sarah Palin's Alaska Meets the View on ABC.

Posted by: htimothyjones1 | December 22, 2010 5:56 AM | Report abuse

This column...especially the just plain inane and completely stupid. Clapper personally is not stopping anything, so whether he knew about the London arrests at the time of the interview represents...absolutely nothing.

Why anyone obsesses over things like this is the really questionable part...but then Americans have shown the most abject cowardice of any country in the world where anything that might even hint at some act is concerned.

Posted by: Rigged | December 22, 2010 6:54 AM | Report abuse

Correct me if I'm wrong, but as I understand the structure of the office it's not the DNI's job to be aware of every terror-related incident on an immediate basis. If the arrests happened a few hours before they showed up for the interview, the info would still be with an analyst (CIA, I'd suppose), who would make a judgment as to whether to pass it further up the chain or not based on its importance.

Also, the DNI doesn't perform an operational role so much as an administrative role. The DNI sets broad objectives for the intelligence community, and basically tweaks the organization and processes involved in inter-agency intelligence sharing.

So, Clapper not knowing about the arrest isn't a big deal.

Also, on second reading, the question is awkwardly phrased. It looks like either a "gotcha", or like Sawyer's being intentionally flip with the question to appear as if she has an intimate knowledge of world affairs.

Posted by: whorton1 | December 22, 2010 7:16 AM | Report abuse

"It's not the DNI's job to be aware of every terror-related incident on an immediate basis".

You do realize that it is the DNI's job to produce the President's daily briefing?'s_Daily_Brief

And he flat-out stated that he didn't know, not that he didn't understand the question.

Gross incompetence.

Posted by: Greg6925 | December 22, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Clapper's role, as stated by one poster, is managerial -- which is precisely what has been lacking in the intelligence community for decades. Current events quizzes are of little importance. He, unlike his predecessors, has the experience and skill to pull the disparate elements together. I've been there, done that (as many posters clearly have not)and I do not envy him his task. Forget the trivia and move on.

Posted by: jfowler120 | December 22, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Clapper's job, as one poster suggested, is managerial -- pulling together multiple intelligence functions that have gone uncoordinated for decades. He is not, nor should he be, the morning talking dog. He is experienced and skilled in management, as his predecessors have not been. I've been there, done that -- and don't think too many posters have. Move on from trivia, there are important things to do.

Posted by: jfowler120 | December 22, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

On second viewing, I have to agree that the question (though more a statement than a question) is awkwardly worded and lacking context.

The editing at ABC does attempt to portray Clapper as clueless and unprepared, but if I had a stab at it, I could portray Sawyer as being snobby and fatuous with her interviewing skills.

Give Clapper a break. He's way to busy to be in touch with events that occur just before a TV interview. I hope he's not bogging himself in such details and is more focused on a larger picture.

Posted by: naeruat | December 28, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

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