Former DNI Director James Clapper joined me for a wide-ranging interview about his memoir “Facts and Fears: Hard Truths From A Life In Intelligence”:
HH: So pleased to welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show now James Clapper, the fourth U.S. Director of National Intelligence. And you should know this. He began life as an enlisted Marine in the United States’ service, went on to become a three-star Air Force Lieutenant General and director of the Defense Intelligence Agency before his long service as DNI, and it’s an honor to have him. And we have a friend in common, James Clapper, in the name of Dan Poneman, with whom I was having a drink the other day. He said to say hello to you. He’s looking forward to the next vespers, and to be nice to you.
JC: Well, that’s great. Dan is great. He is a superb public servant and just a great person, and a great patriot, too, so thanks for that.
HH: Well, he is my college roommate. And so I’m on a short leash with you, because of shared friendship. Nevertheless, I want to begin by starting by thanking your wife, Sue. 50 years of your service, but that included for her 23 moves in 32 years, as you recount in Facts And Fears. It includes a harrowing illness, a coma and recovery. She’s an amazing person, James Clapper, but you knew that, but I’m glad you told everyone about it in Facts And Fears.
JC: Well, I’ll tell you, I really appreciate your bringing that up. Of all the interviews I’ve had in the last couple of weeks, you’re the only one ever to bring that up. And I really appreciate that, because it’s very appropriate. Whatever success I’ve had would never happen without her.
HH: You know, whenever I look out at the military serving, and we do that a lot here, I know there’s a spouse attached, and that they are, they’re living the life, too, and they’re putting up with the same things. And by bringing Sue in and out of your narrative, I think you do a great service to every military and intelligence spouse out there going back as long as there have been military spouses.
JC: Well, Hugh, you’re a good man for bringing that up, and you’re exactly right. The spouses serve, too, as they make great sacrifices and keep the home fires burning while everybody’s, you know, you’re deployed or overseas or TUI or whatever it is. And so good on you for bringing that up.
HH: Well, we have a family member who’s the spouse of an intelligence professional retired now, and I didn’t even know that it was an intelligence professional until he got PNG’d out of a country. And I was amazed. And you know, people don’t know, right? They don’t know the lives that some of these people are living.
JC: That’s true, and many in, you know, hazardous conditions, I’m speaking more broadly now for everybody that serves particularly in the intelligence community, whether military or civilian, and it’s particularly true, as you acknowledge, with military. There’s some nasty places that they go serve this country in the interest of keeping it safe and secure.
HH: Well, may Sue return to the land of luxury cruises, as you put it in Facts And Fears, very, very soon. Let’s get to the book. You have been, and I found this, I didn’t know this, you have been to GRU headquarters, the military intelligence in Russia. I thought that of course, Mike Flynn was the first to go there. You were. You have been to the former Stasi headquarters. You have brought hostages home from North Korea. So you’ve seen what happens when intelligence surveillance is turned against citizens, and yet you and Rachel Brand on this program have argued for Section 702 authority and Section 715 authority. Are you worried about those authorities in the long run, given that you’ve seen the other side when intelligence runs amok?
JC: That’s a great question. And yeah, I do worry about it, but I also have confidence in our oversight mechanisms first within the government and the compliance regimen that is instituted with the agencies that are involved, notably NSA. And the Congressional oversight, when it works, right now it’s not working so well, but it was set up to do that, and so I also believe that the people involved in this are very sensitive to the protection of civil liberties and privacy. My comment that you know, I’m a citizen, and I value my civil liberties and privacy, and for exactly the reason you cite, and the things I’ve seen, and having been a Cold War warrior for 30-plus years, I do have an appreciation for what happens when governments abuse their authorities or usurp authorities or assume authorities that they don’t have. So I think right now, the oversight mechanisms work to protect Americans. I will say, if you’ll permit me here, a little bit of an explanation here that is in historical context, it might explain why this is such a challenge.
JC: You know, they say the Cold War, in the heyday of the Cold War, there were basically two mutually exclusive telecommunication systems in the world – one dominated by the Soviet Union and one dominated in the West, but primarily by the United States. It was a rare, rare event when you ever saw any mention of U.S. persons in the telecommunication system dominated by the Soviet Union. So then we have the internet and all the great advantages that that gives mankind. Well, one of the downsides to that is all those communications are all, are now all mixed up. And so you have hundreds of millions of people every day conducting billions of innocent transactions. But mixed in among them are nefarious people, nefarious nation-states as well, conducting nefarious actions. And so the dilemma, the challenge is to pick out those needles in thousands of haystacks that are nefarious without touching any of the surrounding straws of hay, if I can use that metaphor. So that’s the challenge that we have today. And 702, as you allude, is controversial, but it is a necessary feature of the intelligence community and law enforcement community, for that matter, to keep the nation safe and secure. So…
HH: Well, Congress did reauthorize it, but I think we’ll come back to that argument again and again and again. I want to quote to you from your own book, Facts And Fears, on Page 81. “Seeing the stark reality of what Stasi did, East German intelligence service, stayed with me. This is what happened when a state surveillance apparatus ran amok with no limits and no checks. The East German experience tempered my attitude about collecting intelligence on innocent citizens in our country or elsewhere.” You also say about Angela Merkel, “I believe she never trusted her intelligence organization, hers or anyone else’s. She didn’t know and didn’t want to know what her intelligence agencies were doing.” That is the opposite of where you came to work. But I do worry, and I’ll come to Silicon Valley in a second, that we don’t have enough controls, Director Clapper.
JC: Well, you mentioned Silicon Valley. And here, I think that we may be in agreement. And I’ve specifically, speaking of the social media platforms…
JC: And I do, which right now actually have, you know, virtually no regulation, I believe, and I’ve said this publicly, that what we need for the social media platforms is something akin to the Federal Communications Commission, which was set up in the 1920s to regulate radio and later television. We have nothing comparable for the social media platforms. And as we’ve seen, they’d like to just regulate themselves. I believe they need oversight and regulation from the government.
HH: I agree with you, and you recount in Facts And Fears the worst example. After the San Bernardino massacre, Apple would not cooperate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And it was going to take it to the highest court until the FBI figured out how to crack the code on their own.
HH: And that is a foreshadowing of what’s going to happen again and again unless we get that regulatory oversight.
JC: Well, Hugh, you raise a very good point, because I think right now, the country’s in a bad place with respect to you know, the absolutist positions the privacy advocates, notably Tim Cook of Apple, and he’s very eloquent about this, and of course, on the other side is the government. And increasingly, intelligence and law enforcement even more compellingly, I think, are in a dark, you know, going dark mode where the FBI has a large number of cell phones that are implicated in felony investigations, and they can’t read them, can’t open them, can’t open them up. So you know, we’ve, in our history, we’ve been pretty good about figuring out compromises. And here’s one case where we haven’t, yet, and we need to. I would make it, I’m a believer in some form of key encryption that, or key escrow where the key for encryption system would be split among three or more entities which would be, can be put in, and would have to be united in order to open a phone under an appropriate court order or some form of that. And I with those brilliant folks in Silicon Valley would put their heads and energy towards developing something like that.
HH: Now I think they’re going to have to come to the table with people of goodwill in Washington. Secretary Clinton, when she was on my show talking about her book, What Happened, she and I agreed that Franklin Foer’s book, World Without Mind, is deeply troubling. And as you and I have agreed about Mr. Cook, who’s a brilliant man and who runs a great company which I used to invest in, and I’m very happy with how it’s done, but we do need the public interest to somehow, some sort of public utility control over Silicon Valley.
HH: It’s got to come, don’t you think?
JC: You know, I do, and all, this whole issue here with, you know, with 702 and encryption on your iPhone and all that, to me, it all boils down philosophically a question of the extent to which individual citizens are willing to sacrifice for the common good. You know, we generally all stop at stoplights and stop signs. We all, you know, get driver’s licenses before we go out and drive. We all go the airports early to go through TSA security. Ultimately, we do this for the common good. And so it is in the cyber domain. To what extent are individual citizens, and for that matter corporate entities willing to give up, sacrifice some for the common good?
HH: Now let me, before we go to the serious stuff about North Korea, and you’ve got a lot of experience there, I want to compliment you on the incredible candor in Facts And Fears. In particular, you hung a lantern on your worst moment in public service when they spent $80,000 dollars on your farewell reception. And I applaud you for doing that, because everybody makes mistakes in D.C.
HH: Everybody does, or they don’t know what’s going on. And we’re turning every mistake into a hanging offense. And when you put that out there, I said to myself, good on you, Director Clapper. Let’s just get people to focus on the fact sometimes, stuff happens that you have no idea is going on.
JC: Yeah, that’s true. And you know, I met, the episode is, you know, included for several reasons. One, you know, stuff happens and you don’t know about it. It’s typical of Washington. And I always use it as a teaching point for people assuming senior positions. And one of my favorite counsels that I offered to staff people is hey, don’t make me ask the perfect question. And the perfect question I failed to ask was hey, how much does that tent cost? And I just didn’t do that in the last four or five days I was director of the Agency. And I have included, you know, lots of other warts there.
JC: …and mistakes I made, notably the exchange with Senator Wyden in March of 2013 which is a big mistake. So I decided to lay that out in excruciating detail as well, and my screw-up with Diane Sawyer, I think it was in December of 2010. So I didn’t want to be, you know, I did things for eight years perfectly and never made any mistakes, because nobody’d believe that anyway, and a lot of people know differently. So I decided to lay it out there.
HH: I appreciate Facts And Fears for the incredible candor. You said you got thrown under the bus so often, you could have changed the oil. And I laughed out loud. And everybody has been there with the tries thumping over them. But people come up to show the marks, right? That’s the interesting thing about memoirs.
HH: Okay, to the serious stuff. You have a lot of North Korean experience. People will remember you brought hostages back from North Korea. People will not know that you flew around in our reconnaissance aircraft all over the Peninsula back in your young days in the military. So we’re talking about four of five decades of North Korean experience and South Korean experience. What is the best we can hope for next week out of this meeting, Director Clapper?
JC: Well, the best we can hope for is an agreement to keep on talking. We’re in a much better place than we were, say, six months ago with the North Koreans. They’re not firing off missiles or conducting underground nuclear tests. So we’re better, and it’s, the only viable option, the only way ahead here is negotiation. That is talking. So point one would be I think we need to lower expectations. I think there’s great value in meeting and greeting and gripping and grinning. I agreed with President Trump for a change on the letter he sent to Kim Jung Un which elicited a conciliatory response. Very unconventional thing to do, but this is an unconventional situation. What I wish we could do is if we just agreed on nothing more, there are two things I’d like to see come out of this. One, why don’t we normalize or regularize the mechanism for regular communication? And by that, I mean establishing what are called interest sections in Pyongyang and Washington, and that is diplomatic representation, permanent diplomatic representation well below that of an embassy just as we did in Havana, Cuba. Both Republicans and Democratic administrations did this, to deal with a government in Cuba that we didn’t recognize. And so it is here. This is not a reward to the North Koreans for bad behavior. Rather, there are pragmatic, practical reasons why this is a good thing for us. One, to have that diplomatic presence there – I could argue, I can’t prove it, but I could argue that things might have been different for poor Otto Warmbier had we had a diplomatic presence in North Korea, in Pyongyang, who could daily be bugging the North Koreans about his health and welfare. Secondly, and I can’t elaborate on this, but this would be a platform for us to gain greater insight and understanding about what’s going on in North Korea. One of the reasons North Korea is such a hard intelligence target is we’re not there. Third…
HH: It was riveting, by the way, Director Clapper, when you went to get our two hostages. Everything is new. We have no pattern recognition with the North Koreans.
HH: What did they do with visitors, because we have so few visitors.
HH: And so it was all new, and I hope everyone on the plane is reading this section of Facts And Fears.
JC: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. And a third reason is to serve as a conduit for information into North Korea, which they’re very uncomfortable with. And finally, and this may sound a little weird, but if we had a permanent official diplomatic presence in Pyongyang, that would give the North Koreans a sense of some security in that they would think we’d be more unwilling to bomb Pyongyang. That sounds a little weird, but that’s the way they think.
JC: They’re terribly paranoid about us and our aircraft. One other quick point, well, two other quick points, if I may…
JC: While it’s a little on the subject, is one, I think it would be very useful if the President, which he’s not necessarily good at, but would sort of go on a listening tour with Kim Jong Un and try to get him to answer the question what is it that you would need to make you feel sufficiently secure that you don’t need nuclear weapons. This is a first in a lifetime opportunity, first time in the existence of the DPRK, as it’s called, North Korea, that we can hear that from the horse’s mouth. And one last point and I’ll quit, and that’s on the subject of denuclearization of the Peninsula. We should be mindful that that could easily be a two-way street in that the North Koreans could easily demand that we denuclearize, meaning no more B-1’s, B-2’s or B-52’s on the Peninsula, or within operational proximity of the Peninsula. And I hope we’re ready to deal with that. They are paranoid about our bombers.
HH: Oh, they brought it up to you repeatedly, and when you were on the hostage thing.
JC: They did.
HH: The B-52’s get them shivering. And I understand why, because they are, they are the sound of doom in the distance, right, if they’re coming at you.
HH: Let me ask you if I can, Director Clapper, about the JCPOA. You and I are never going to agree about that, so let’s, it’s an interview, not a debate. But do you regret not sending it to the Senate? And should any agreement with North Korea go the Senate so that if one is reached, it endures beyond the handshake deal that President Obama had with the people in Tehran?
JC: Well, you know, the North Koreans could argue that because of what they saw happen in Iran that a simple affirmation by this administration, this president, wouldn’t be sufficient. Yeah, I would have preferred that it had support, the advice and consent of the Senate. I’m speaking now of the JCPOA, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
JC: But for me, and Hugh, the answer is a simple question. Which would you rather have – a state sponsor of terrorism with a nuclear weapons capability or a state sponsor of terrorism without a nuclear weapons capability? I acknowledge the agreement had shortcomings and all that, which hopefully could go back and fix. What I wish the administration has done rather than rejecting it and backing out would have been to use it as a building block and leverage to get at some of the other nefarious behavior of the Iranians that we all don’t like. Now, we are essentially isolated from the international community. And apparently what the President wants is a “better deal”, meaning he wants the Iranians to reform all of their bad behavior, not only the nuclear business, but also missiles and support to the Houthis and to Hezbollah, etc. Yet we’re somehow going to bring this about with a whole lot less leverage than we were able to bring about because of an international coalition of sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. The other bad thing about it is there is an upheaval under foot going on in Iran as we speak. And what we did by backing out of the agreement is simply play to the hardliner narrative in Iran. There’s a, I think, a prospect there for change and reform in Iran, and I’d rather we were in a position to leverage it, to influence it.
HH: Okay, now again, I always say it’s an interview, not a debate, so my audience that wants me to, that wants me to spring to the defense of the critics of the JCPOA, I’m not doing that, because I want to get to the book. And I’ll, everyone knows what I think about the JCPOA, so I don’t have to do that. But you bring up Iran. And in the book, I want people to understand, you were deeply involved, and you’re very candid, about the weapons of mass destruction mistake in Iraq.
HH: And you point out there that Saddam, one of the theories was he wanted Iran to believe he had weapons of mass destruction. And you, you and everyone else, and me and W. and George Tenet and every Democrat and Secretary Clinton, we all persuaded ourselves. In fact, you produced the evidence that showed those trucks we thought were biolabs that went to the U.N. with Saddam, and you lay it all out. You want people to understand you know what happens when bad intel gets into the system.
JC: Well, this was a, you know, terrible thing, because of the, you know, the implications of it, the blood and treasure that we lost is terrible. And that, since my fingerprints were on that infamous national intelligence estimate of October, 2002, I was agency head, the second agency, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and I never forgot that, and I think the important thing for the public to understand is you know, the intelligence community is a learning organization. And we went to school on that and built in a lot of procedural improvements to hopefully prevent something like that from ever happening again.
HH: What did you learn about Curveball? And explain to people what Curveball was, because they might not know. They might be too young.
JC: Curveball was a human intelligence asset actually controlled by the Germans. And we didn’t have direct access to him, and that’s kind of error number one, who for whatever motivations provided us some bad information that we accepted pretty much as gospel without verifying it. So he gave us a lot of information about these vehicles that were doubling as biological or chemical labs, I’m not sure which, and we sort of built a house of cards on top of that. And I remember when I was director of NGA, we identified some, I don’t know, 900-plus sites that we suspected had some weapons of mass destruction association. And every one of them were searched and looked at, and none of them had any weapons of mass destruction. And boy, that is a lesson that stuck with me from 2002 until the rest of the time I served in intelligence.
HH: You write on Page 99, “The problem with Curveball, our original and corroborating sources were the same person.”
HH: So tough question…
JC: I didn’t, and here’s the big fix we made, was the process we have today for vetting and approving national intelligence estimates. NIE’s are the apex, the highest form of intelligence reporting. And they normally go the president and other senior decision makers. So the first thing we do at every meeting of what’s called the National Intelligence Board, which is composed of the leaders of their senior representatives who sit as a group chaired by the director of national intelligence, and review and approve or remand, if the case demands it, NIE’s. And the first thing we do is each contributing agency that has any, has one or more sources that were drawn on for the composition of the NIE must recite the sources they used and testify or verify their authenticity and accuracy. It’s very important step that we didn’t used to do.
HH: So Director, how does it, it’s a tough question, but how does the failure we had with Curveball not recur? How is it different from what we did with Christopher Steele and his dossier?
JC: Well, it differs a lot. The dossier is not an intelligence document, was not used in the intelligence community assessment that we, I say we, the FBI, the NSA, CIA and my office, put together and published on the 6th of January, 2017, and briefed to then-President-Elect Trump at Trump Tower. The dossier was not used to put that report together. The only reason that we brought up the dossier was in a separate one on one session that Jim Comey had with the President-Elect, was to let him know that it was out there, and just to warn him about the counterintelligence implications, because the Russians are big on what’s called kompromat, or compromising material whether it’s real or contrived. And we just wanted to let him know about it, and of course, you know, in the no good deed goes unpunished department, lots of criticism for that. But the dossier not a, not used, and for the very same reason. We could not validate the second and third order sources that were used to compile those 17 memos that composed, that represent the dossier. So exactly the same reason as what happened, what we didn’t do in 2002.
HH: Okay, so my…so my conclusion that the Steele dossier is the same as the Curveball information is correct, but you’re saying it was not used in the way that the Curveball information was used?
JC: Well, then bear in mind, there were, the dossier is actually a compilation of 17 separate memos. And some of those were corroborated in our report from completely different and valid sources. Others could, other material in there, notably the salacious material, could not be, and as far as I know, never was validated. So some of it was valid, but some of it couldn’t be. And the big hang up was we could not attest to the veracity of the second and third order sources that were drawn on to compile it.
HH: So I know you’ve been asked before, but for our audience, Director Comey was selected by you and Mr. Brennan to give the brief. Why did he only brief about the salacious material and nothing else?
JC: Well, here’s the, it’s not exactly right. Here’s what happened. We agree, we had decided on how we were going to brief the intelligence community assessment, the main points of it. And I was going to be kind of the main talker, and then I would refer to each of the other directors for them to amplify, embellish what I was saying. Separately, we had decided that it would neck down to a one on one for the sake of discretion after the presentation of the intelligence community assessment, and it would only be Jim Comey and the President-Elect. And it was more by consensus. I didn’t direct it. I did feel that he should be briefed on it just to let him know it was out there, and it was widely held throughout the media and at least two members of Congress had it. So we just thought we had a duty to warn him about its existence.
HH: Do you think he should have been warned that it was oppo research from the Democratic campaign and…
JC: Well, from my part, and I know this is true of John Brennan, and I don’t, I can’t speak specifically on behalf of Jim Comey, but John and I certainly did not know what the financing pedigree of the dossier was. I was more concerned about the fact that it existed, that it was widely held by many media outlets, and that the President should know about it. The business about how it was financed first by Republicans and then later the DNC, I didn’t learn that until well after I left the government.
HH: I know. That’s in your book, and that was a surprise to me that you didn’t know about it. But if Comey, if the director, former director Comey did know about it, ought he to have told the President about it?
JC: Well, again, I don’t know that he knew that himself. But, because Christopher Steele, the compiler, was you know, considered a credible source. And the FBI had used him before, and he was a professional intelligence officer in MI6 and a Russian specialist. So he, for his part, was considered credible. But I don’t, I can’t speak for Jim one way or the other. And yeah, sure it would have been useful had he known. But I don’t think it would have, and told the President-Elect. But I don’t think that would detract from its existence was the main point we wanted to get across to then-President-Elect Trump.
HH: Last question about that specific briefing. Ought he to have briefed about all 17 reports, because it seems to me from a distance and only reading secondary accounts, I haven’t discussed it with the President or Reince Priebus or anyone like that, it seems to me that when you highlight the salacious material, that’s all you remember. And it’s what directed the unfortunate course of events that followed, that had the briefing been good, full and complete, including as to the origin and providence of the material and to the questions about Steele, I believe he had already compromised himself in the eyes of the FBI when that happened, that the President would not have reacted as he did. Is that a fair assessment, Mr. Clapper?
JC: Well, I don’t know, because what he accused us of was leaking the dossier, which you know, we, the four of us, certainly didn’t do. And I thought you know, describing the intelligence community as Nazis, which I think was on the 11th of January, but five days after the briefing, and that which prompted me to call him and, President-Elect Trump then, and amazingly, he took the call. And I was, you know, I felt obliged to defend the great men and women of the intelligence community against an accusation like that.
HH: How long did that conversation go for?
JC: Well, it wasn’t very long, maybe 10 or 12 minutes. Basically, what I tried to do was to assure him that he was inheriting what I considered after serving in it for over 50 years, a national treasure in the form of the intelligence community, and that there are great men and women all over the world that were ready, willing and able to serve him and support him, and provide him as much information as possible for all the hard decisions he was going to have to make. And I also, I think, brought up the notion of truth to power. And in fact, I had written him a note, handwritten note that I sent him in the first presidential daily brief that he received after he was elected encouraging him to stick to the principle truth to power and not just accept it or acquiesce in it, but encourage and protect that principle, particularly with respect to the intelligence community.
HH: You know, those of us who support the administration generally, Director Clapper, have concerns about the period from December 5 through the inauguration that the intelligence community was not dealing fairly with the President-Elect, and that President Obama may have been setting up, this goes to the unmasking issue. This goes to the entire set of events. How do you allay…
JC: Well, let’s talk about unmasking.
JC: Let’s talk about unmasking. That’s a practice that I followed, as did others, the whole six and a half years I was director of national intelligence where I was in a position to do that. And getting back to our earlier discussion about Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, there are procedures built into the way signal intelligence reporting is done nowadays to protect the identities of U.S. persons. And so when they are, when U.S. persons, and this is the important point here, are engaged or interacting with a valid foreign intelligence target, and I stress that phrase, a valid foreign intelligence target, and they are engaging with them, they are identified if they show up in intelligence collection as U.S person 1, U.S. person 2, U.S. person 3. And I can assure you as a reader of these reports, it’s very difficult to understand the context unless you know who those U.S. persons are. So I made unmasking requests, as did others in the national security arena, to understand the context. At no time in my six and a half years as DNI did I ever see an abuse of that, to include the period that you mentioned, from 5 December to the inauguration.
HH: Now Former President Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Powers, has testified that others made unmasking requests in her name. Trey Gowdy, who has said that on Fox News, her testimony is that they may be under my name, but I did not make those requests. If that happened, if people usurped the authority to request unmaskings, would that concern you, Director Clapper?
JC: Yeah, it would, because I don’t know quite how that would happen, you know, because the only way you can make an unmasking request is that you have authorized access to the report in question in the first place. So I don’t know how that, quite how that would work. I would also tell you that it was not a requirement that people who asked for unmaskings go through me for approval. The approving authority would be the original collecting agency, which normally would be NSA.
HH: And so the concern is a lot of unmasking happened that you might not have known about. I actually, I take you completely at your word here. And by the way, how often would you have unmasked as your six years as DNI? How often did it happen?
JC: Well, it would vary depending on the reporting, but I would say maybe once every couple of weeks, something like that, over the six and a half years. I’d come across reports that, and I felt, you know, that it was my duty to understand, my obligation as the director of national intelligence, to understand these interactions when U.S. persons were interacting with valid foreign intelligence targets, particularly Russians, our adversary.
HH: And that, the unmasking, though, takes us back. Remember we began by talking about Stasi and our concern about the intelligence agency? If unmasking happens a lot, or if FISA warrants are produced on the basis of Steele dossiers, doesn’t the worry about our intelligence community run amok get higher?
JC: Yeah, that’s true, but that’s not my understanding that any FISA warrant was done only exclusively based on the dossier.
HH: If it was, would you be concerned?
JC: I could be, yeah. It would depend on the exact framing on the FISA authorization. This gets technical and specific, so it’s hard to make a generalization.
HH: I know that. I did FISA warrants for…
JC: The FBI…
HH: I did FISA warrants for two attorneys general. I prepared them for Attorney General Smith and Meese, and I know how elaborate they are, and I know how difficult it is to declassify. But if it was just that dossier, boy, that’s going to be a problem.
JC: Yeah, well, it’s not my understanding that was the case. But you know, we can argue about this until the cows come home.
HH: Yeah, let’s wait for the report. Let’s go back to the book. I want to go back to the key stuff in Facts And Fears. You had, you inherited a period of time in the world where surprises came fast on Nidal Hasan, San Bernardino, Orlando massacre, the Boston Marathon bombing, abroad, Russia took Crimea, ISIS comes out of nowhere, Benghazi happens, the loss of four Americans, Snowden is a treasonous son of a gun. I’d use worse words, but we’re on the FCC. Syria dissolves. Was this a uniquely unlucky president? Or is it any president would have had the same level and pace of surprises?
JC: Well, I think I would just harken back to a comment that I made virtually every year at my open worldwide threat assessment hearings on Capitol Hill. And I would say something like never in my 50 years of experience in the intelligence community have we experienced more diverse array of challenges and threats around the world than we are now. And I would simply add a year each year I did that. And I think it was emblematic of the nature of the world that I think just about, it doesn’t matter who was the president, would have had the same challenges.
HH: So these were not failures of the intelligence community? These are simply the results of a transformational period of time in which the threat matrix grew exponentially against the assets we had? And by the way, your description of…
JC: Well, let me just comment on, let me comment on that, Hugh. I do think that you know, there is the old saw in intelligence about the difference between secrets and mysteries. Secrets are knowable facts. And I think, I acknowledge I sound a little defensive here, but I think too often, the intelligence community is held to the same exacting standard for divining both secrets, that is knowable facts and mysteries.
HH: Well put.
JC: And unless we are invested with great mindreading skills, you know, what’s in the head of Vladimir Putin, or what’s in the head of Kim Jong Un, which is very difficult to do, some of what happens is inherently unpredictable.
HH: That’s why your chapter on the sequestration and the impacts of it on the intelligence community should be read by everyone. We cannot disarm in this environment, and yet we did so during these years.
JC: Well, exactly, and that chapter is a tad bureaucratic, maybe, but I included it…
HH: No, it’s great.
JC: …exactly for the reason you cite, to try to explain in terms that average citizen laymen can understand, the impacts on the intelligence community when we have a Congress that has great difficulty doing its most basic duty, which is appropriate funds.
HH: Let me ask you about some specifics, Director Clapper. Was it a good idea for President Obama to fire Stanley McChrystal when he did?
JC: Well, you’re getting a little out of my lane here. It’s, you know, not really an intelligence issue, but I mean, that’s a call that a commander-in-chief has to make. So I can’t second guess that decision. I’m not sure what I would have done had I been in his position. And thank God, I never will be. So I…
HH: Should he have…
JC: I’m not going to pass judgment on it.
HH: Should he have overlooked David Petraeus and kept him since he is such an able individual?
JC: Well, that’s a hard question, too, and I had some role in that. I honestly think that Dave ended up doing exactly the right thing in taking control of the situation while he still had some control, and you know, tell his family first and most, and then the President himself. And I think Dave did the right thing.
HH: I am a big fan of General Petraeus, and only have spoken to him on this show once. I would welcome a Trump pardon of Petraeus. Would you, Director Clapper?
JC: That’s up, that’s entirely up to the commander-in-chief, and I don’t, I don’t want to profess any, I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to say anything about it.
HH: All right, let me go to the Osama bin Laden raid recreated in great detail here. It’s riveting. You also discussed Joe Biden wanted to wait. Bob Gates wanted to use drone strikes. There’s this, you quote Patton about you consult all your fears, but once you make your decision, you go with it, which the President did.
HH: And you did not second guess Admiral McRaven after the first helicopter dropped. And so bravo on a reconstruction. Here’s my criticism. You got all the hard drives, cell phones, thumb drives, books, etc. I loved Osama bin Laden’s bookshelf section, by the way. Did you announce too soon that we’d gotten him?
JC: Well, I don’t think so. And the fact is that it was already out that what had happened as much as we tried to keep it secret, ergo the big crowd in Lafayette Park when we walked out of the West Wing to go to watch the speech the President made that night. So no, I don’t think so, and I think we had, we did want to wait until we had the preliminary DNA results, which made us 90-95% sure it was him. So no, I don’t think so.
HH: In a perfect world, would it have stayed secret longer?
JC: Yeah, in a perfect world, which we don’t have. I doubt, I doubt it.
HH: But I mean, what I’m getting at, isn’t it helpful to keep things like that secret so that we can run through the data and find all the connection and use the metadata, as you talked about in San Bernardino, to find at least we’re certain there’s not another plot?
JC: Well, in a case of the material that was picked up by the SEALs, and I’ll tell you, to this day, I find it amazing that they had the presence of mind to pick up all that stuff and catalogue it on scene. I don’t know how they did that. They are amazing people.
JC: But for them, it’s just another day at the office. But anyway, we did set up a 7 X 24 task force drawn from, I think 9 components of the intelligence community, and to run, to go through that material, triage it to ensure there was nothing of a timely nature. Most of it was dated. Then we went, set about after that in an effort led by the CIA to go through all of the material. And I think they recently finally released the last tranche of material that was picked up with a few exceptions where there was some operational equity that needed to be protected. But the rest of it’s been released.
HH: Now Director Clapper, I always make sure I respect the time of my guests. Secretary Clinton granted more time to the court, if it were, when she was on with me. Have I got more time with you? Or are we up against a hard break?
JC: Sure. No, no, go ahead.
HH: Because your book has got so much in it. You talk about the Arab Spring, and you give a good account of how it began in Tunisia and spread. Have you read The Looming Tower, by the way, my favorite book that I recommend to everyone?
JC: I have not. I apologize. I haven’t read it.
HH: Well, it’s about the Muslim…
JC: But I know about it.
HH: Yeah, it’s about the Muslim Brotherhood. And in your book, I was surprised that you believed at the time that it happened in Egypt there was a moderate wing of the Muslim Brotherhood and a radical wing. Did you believe that after the year that the Brotherhood was in power?
JC: What I was speaking about, and this is another mistake I made when I picked a bad adjective in a three hour hearing, I picked a bad word, what I was speaking about in particular when I testified about it was their political behavior in that they attempted to be in the system and were effective. And they had representation in the Egyptian Parliament, even with all the suppression of them. So they did behave in a pragmatic matter, I guess, is a better way to put it. And they also, you know, did a lot of philanthropic things in Egypt, ran hospitals, schools and the like. Muslim Brotherhood is not a monolith across the globe. It’s, there’s not an international Muslim Brotherhood movement that’s orchestrated centrally. It varies from place to place, and their behavior plays, in some places, they’re bad, they’re very extreme. So I was just trying not to make what I felt would be an inadequate, inaccurate generalization about the Muslim Brotherhood.
HH: All right. In the Facts And Fears, you bring up a number of times, and you were justifiably proud of your work to advance the opportunities for the LGBTQ community in intelligence. And I think that’s all well and good and told in detail. But perhaps it obscured for you a piece of information. On Page 338, you write that the LGBTQ community was targeted with violence in Orlando. They were certainly the victims of violence. But Vox, Slate, Huffington Post, it’s all generally now agreed that the shooter didn’t even know he’d gone into a gay nightclub, that he was an ISIS-inspired jihadist. Do you agree with that assessment now?
JC: No, I don’t. I’m not sure that’s, that’s not clear to me that he was motivated by ISIS.
HH: Okay, that is, okay, we’ll leave that out there. Again, it’s an interview, not a debate, but that is a big difference. I wanted to bring it up. Now I want to go to Glenn Kessler, Washington Post.
JC: By the way…
HH: Go ahead.
JC: The LGBTA, I mean, that, my concern was they’re being treated fairly and equitably and allowing them who are, many of whom are very, very talented intelligence officers to be open about their identity. And I can’t imagine the stress that military members were under where if they were outed, their career was over overnight. And some people had invested 15 or 18 years in the military, and all of a sudden, they’re out because of their sexual preference. And to me, that’s the big point here, is there was an injustice.
HH: It made no sense to me, either. I agree with you. It made no sense to me, either. But I was with Jane Coastin and others. I want to quote her now. “There is now conclusive evidence that the shooter wasn’t intending to target LGBTQ people at all.” We’ll leave that for another time, because I don’t want to debate. I don’t want to waste my time. I want to instead go to Glenn Kessler, whom I respect at the Washington Post. My guess is you do as well. He summarized the anti-Clapper theory this way. “The theory is that Clapper pushed then-FBI Director Comey to brief President-Elect Donald Trump about the dossier with salacious material about Trump in Russia, and then tipped,” CNN’s Jake Tapper is a good friend of mine, “about the briefing so CNN would have a hook to report on the dossier’s existence. CNN’s reporting then prompted BuzzFeed to publish the document in full. Clapper was supposedly rewarded for his assistance with a CNN gig. Clapper-Tappergate.” End of quote from Glenn Kessler, your response, Director Clapper?
JC: Well, that was the, actually, I attribute that more to the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. The first interaction I had of any sort, physical or electronic, was on May 14th, 2017, when I appeared on State of the Union. And by the way, we never talked about the dossier on that show. I reviewed the transcript. So you know, this is just sort of made up. And I didn’t direct…
HH: And to be clear, that was Glenn’s conclusion. I was just quoting him as a neutral source for the assessment of what the assertion was.
JC: Yeah. Well, he’s actually quoting the, I believe, the House Republicans. Actually, Glenn Kessler, the fact checker, rebutted…
JC: …in an article, that assertion.
HH: Right. I used his summary so I would get it right.
JC: And I had, I’ll tell you, I had no idea I would end up working for CNN in January. I hadn’t thought about it. And the only reason I was appearing on television immediately after I left the government was, a main motivation was to defend the intelligence community.
HH: So you did not tip Jake?
HH: All right.
JC: I did not.
HH: Let me go to the key question about the surveillance of Carter Page. Did you know, Mr. Halper, the academic at Cambridge? Do you know him at all?
JC: No, I do not. I didn’t know anything about that until it came out in the media.
HH: Oh, interesting.
JC: I didn’t know anything about it contemporaneously.
HH: Did his name every come up? Did it, you don’t even recall it when you and Director Brennan and Comey came together?
JC: No, no.
JC: None of these names, actually, when we left the scene in January of ’17, I never heard of George Papadopoulos. Carter Page, I may have known about mainly through media, but, and certainly the identity of the informant, I didn’t know. No.
HH: But you knew Mike Flynn very, very well. I mean, I’m glad you stood up for his career in Facts And Fears, because Stanley McChrystal has done the same thing. And many other people served with him said he’s the best intelligence officer they ever served with in the field.
JC: Well, Mike was a great military intelligence officer, and had all kinds of, as I outline in the book, all kinds of deployed time in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I was a coefficient at his promotion ceremony to three-star, a wonderful ceremony held in the Women’s Memorial in Washington. He worked for me on my staff for about 11 months. I supported him to be director of DIA, a job I’d had in the early 90s. But for one reason or another, it didn’t work out, and talked to Mike Vickers, who was my successor as the undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence at the Pentagon, had a different set of reasons, but we agreed that since we sort of mutually together oversee the four agencies in DOD that it was time to make a move. And Mike took it very, very well. We had a wonderful ceremony for him in, I think it was July of ’14. And we allowed him to stay so he could completely his three years in grade as a lieutenant general, which is the minimum you need to retire in that grade and receive retired pay at that rate. But I think, and I lost contact with Mike after that, but it was my impression that, and I’m just speculating here that it ate at him being terminated earlier, and he became an angry man. And the Mike Flynn I saw performing at the Republican National Committee convention, Republican National Convention, was not the Mike Flynn I knew. He had, in my opinion, had changed.
HH: You write that in Facts And Fears. We all make mistakes. His going to Russia to sit next to Putin was a mistake. Obviously, it was. It was sort of like the tent mistake. We all make mistakes. I had Mike Morell, a good colleague of yours, and I have immense respect for former Acting Director Morell, on this program. And I asked Secretary Clinton as well about her server. Was that server a huge mistake?
JC: Yes. It was.
HH: Let me play for you, I asked Director Morell if it was compromised. Here’s what Director Morell told me.
MM: So I think that foreign intelligence services, the good ones, the good ones, have everything on any unclassified network that the government uses, whether it’s a private server or a public one. They’re that good.
HH: So that’s a yes?
HH: So he thought it was compromised. Do you, Director Clapper?
JC: Well, it’s certainly the potential for it, although the FBI could never turn up any actual evidence that the server had been penetrated or exploited. But I think Michael’s warning is a good one, just as I worry about the President’s use of his own cellphone, because the foreign adversaries are going to exploit that as well.
HH: Yeah, I think the FBI said they couldn’t discover whether or not it had been compromised. They didn’t rule it out, correct?
JC: Well, yeah, you can’t ever fully rule out to say, you just can’t do that. So they couldn’t find any evidence of it, but that’s not to say it wasn’t exploited.
HH: All right. So I want to conclude by talking about when you were abroad in Oman when the election results reached you, it sounded like you reacted like I did. I was on the set with Chuck Todd, James Carville, Lester Holt and Savannah Guthrie and Tom Brokaw. And I might have been the only person at 30 Rock who voted for Donald Trump. And nobody expected him to win.
HH: Would you tell people about your reaction?
JC: Well, I had, I was equally shocked. I thought this was a tremendous upset. My impression is, I think Mr. Trump was equally surprised, too. And what the, what disturbed me personally, it just, as a citizen, was how disconnected I was from you know, what I’ll call the flyover part of the United States. And I did not understand as I probably should have the pent up frustration, resentment, anger that many Americans have for Washington just in general. And I think that the election results were emblematic of that anger and resentment.
HH: And in fact, you write that I was just how out of touch I was with the people who lived in Middle America. And I love Salena Zito and Brad Todd’s new book, The Great Revolt, about that. But you also write, and it’s on Page 357, “I wondered what President Obama was thinking, and if he now regretted his reticence to speak about the Russian interference.” That suggests he didn’t speak out because he thought Hillary was going to win, but would have…
JC: No, I…
HH: Go ahead.
JC: Well, there may have been, there may have been underlying that, but I think the, and we had many, many discussions about this in the fall, you know, late summer, early fall of 2016. Should we be more robust in our public pronouncements about the Russian interference? And the mitigating factors, the inhibiting factors, I guess, were 1) if we did so, would we be amping up, magnifying what the Russians were doing? And I think President Obama was understandably concerned about his putting his hand on the scale in favor of one candidate, and to the disfavor of the other, particularly in light of then-Candidate Trump’s assertions or allegations that that the election would be rigged. And so I think there was reticence, reluctance to you know, to play to that narrative. When we finally did go out with a pretty forthright, candid statement about what the Russians were doing on the 7th of October, which coincidentally was the same day exactly that the Access Hollywood audiotapes came out, and the Podesta emails were dumped. So our message about the Russians interfering got completely lost.
HH: Okay, last, because I’ve really abused your time. Last three or four minutes, Director Clapper. Director Comey took minutes at the meeting with the President-Elect and subsequent meetings. Did you ever take minutes of meetings with people that you briefed?
JC: No, I did not. I had met a grand total of, on a one on one, it was, I recount in the book, I met with President Obama three times in six and a half years. And the first time was when I met him for the first time in April of ’10 when he sort of did the, you know, hey, look me over audition. And I met two other times, and I won’t go into detail, but the subject both times was who would be the next director of CIA. And I distinctly remember all three of those conversations, but I never, I just never saw fit, saw the need to write down my immediate recollections. It would have a good thing maybe for posterity, but I didn’t do it.
HH: Now I know that former Director Comey’s a good friend of yours, and we have many friends in common, though I do not know him. Did he make a mistake when he gave his notes to the Professor and others who were not in the government?
JC: Well, you know, that’s, I don’t think so. I mean, I’ll just say this about things that Jim Comey did and decisions that he made. For one, if you want to understand that, read the early parts of his book if you want to understand what makes Jim Comey tick. So I’ve always said when I’ve been asked about this that whatever he did, whatever decisions he made, he did so for what he considered to be the right reasons and in the best interests of the country. And that’s all I’ll say about it.
HH: Last question has to do with our common enemy, Vladimir Putin. And I helped Richard Nixon write The Real War in 1979 and ’80, so I have been following this for a long time. Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday, “Do you really think that a person is engaged in the restaurant business even having some hacking opportunities can affect elections in the United States?” That is classic Soviet, now Russian disinformation. And your book is very valuable in alerting people they have been doing this since Nixon. They tried to elect Humphrey. They tried to hurt Carter. They tried to hurt Reagan. Now, they’re really good at it, and we’ve got to get past this Democrat-Republican stuff…
HH: …because China and Russia and North Korea and Iran are really good at this.
JC: Well, you hit the nail on the head, and you also basically got at my major motivation for writing the book in the first place, because I wasn’t going to write a book. But I decided that I would do my little part to try to educate the public about the Russians. And throughout all of this, my concern has been the Russians meddling with us, meddling in a fundamental pillar of our system, our political system. And that is a bad thing. And I would hope that I could help wake up some Americans and alert them to the very disturbing threat that Russia poses. And don’t forget, Vladimir Putin is a trained and experienced KGB officer. So he is, he is professional at disinformation. He’s very good at it.
HH: He is, and your book is very good at alarming, sounding the alarm about that. Facts And Fears: Hard Truths From A Life In Intelligence, Director Clapper, thank you for spending so much time. And please do thank Sue Clapper for me, because there is in this book an amazing amount of hints of how much she has given, and I appreciate that.
JC: Thank you, Hugh, very much, and thanks for your time, and for your thoughtful questions.
HH: My pleasure.
End of interview.