By SIOBHAN GORMAN
WASHINGTON—James Clapper won Senate approval Thursday to become the government’s top spymaster after running a gauntlet of lawmaker concerns and overcoming last-minute barriers from Republicans….
Shortly after Mr. Clapper was nominated in early June, his route to confirmation turned turbulent.
Lawmakers didn’t question the qualifications of the longtime veteran of U.S. spy services, who has run two of the 16 intelligence agencies. But Ms. Feinstein raised concerns about his ability to be independent from the Pentagon. And Republicans charged he had a record of withholding information from Congress. [Emphasis added]
Ms. Feinstein, with whom I do not always agree, raises a concern that it seems to me should grow in all of us: the militarization of intelligence agencies. Several of the large ones like NSA have always been part of the Department of Defense. The Directors of National Intelligence. except for the first have all been military. Apart from the CIA and FBI, and the CIA has had military heads in the past, the Department of Defense dominates Intelligence Community leadership and budget. With all due respect to the military which does have a legitimate interest in intelligence and in which I served, I would be much more comfortable if governmental activity potentially so focused on information the acquisition of which might infringe my civil liberties were in civilian hands. It’s fair to say that civilian hands, especially those likely to hold these jobs, don’t give me enough comfort, just more than military ones. For good reasons, fully documented in the historical record of states and nations, the military develops its own culture, if not at odds with the larger culture it serves, then different from that culture in many ways. We need intelligence functions grounded as much as possible in the values of the larger culture.
Then there is the matter of withholding information from Congress. Up to the point at which an oath is given, what is provided and what not seems open to reasonable dispute. After the oath, withholding information should lead to prosecution. I don’t know the circumstances behind this concern with Mr. Clapper and don’t want to fault him for something that didn’t happen but I do hope the media and the Congress will keep a careful watch on what he says and take reasonable step to verify it independently (not a bad idea to apply to all government officials whose conduct can affect our rights negatively).