Thursday, June 14, 2018
Facts & Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence by James Clapper
James Clapper has had a very long career in intelligence collection and he goes through it all for us here. He’s had practically every job out there in leadership in this field, capping his career as Director of National Intelligence. The DNI serves as head of the now seventeen U.S. intelligence collection agencies, and advises the National Security Council which advises the president. Listening to Mark Bramhall narrate the audio of this autobiography, it is easy to see why Clapper had such a long and successful career in government. He gets along well with others.
Most others. Clapper freely disagrees with Congressional Republicans who used government policy or intelligence outcomes to lash out politically at their opponents (Democrats in office), and he spares no pity for Snowden, Poitras, and Greenwald in their pursuit of borderless-ness in secrets uncovered during surveillance.
Which led me to a queer insight: Greenwald as a journalist does as much spying on government as it does on him. Both want the other side’s secrets uncovered and their own preserved…(“only I can preserve individual liberty…”) Snowden was most outspoken about individual rights, and therefore on the far right of America’s political spectrum, and yet he chose a far-left journalist to reveal his secrets to. Strange bedfellows. I was never completely onboard with Snowden or Greenwald but I think Clapper does himself and his agency a disservice by not acknowledging that these folks provided a corrective to potentially invasive intelligence collection, a fact he does in fact concede near the end of this very long book.
I picked up this book because I read a couple of interesting conclusions he’d come to in his nearly sixty years in office. An intelligence chief is an unlikely one to write a tell-all. By the end of his career Clapper acknowledges that the secret aspect of intelligence doesn't have as much cache as it used to, and agrees that it is probably for the best that their activities are out in the open. If you don't mind my saying, this is a result of those men and women who forced this information to be revealed, and yes, it probably is for the better in some ways. Clapper doesn’t seem to hold back on describing the reporting responsibilities and personalities in the agencies he headed, which should save foreign governments time trying to work it all out.
Clapper claims one reason he wrote this book is to want to encourage interested young people to join the intelligence community. The other reason would undoubtedly be countering the criticism he has gotten for major intelligence successes and failures of the past forty years. His last posting as Director of the Office of National Intelligence sounds kind of a bum job: no power but lots of responsibility to make sure all intelligence departments are singing off the same sheet of music. That’s the kind of job they give you if you last long enough in a sea of sharks. Big enough to blame, old enough to bury.
There is no doubt that Clapper had a congenial personality and was able to hold his own among those who did not self-destruct over the years. Anyone’s career that lasted sixty years is worth listening to, I reckon. In my opinion, he gave himself more credit than he should have for allowing gay and trans individuals to serve in the military and intelligence services--after all, this was a very long time coming and too late anyhow. It was a real shock to most Americans not directly attached to the military to discover how many individuals had been undergoing sex-change treatment before Chelsea Manning put a spotlight on the fact.
This book is necessary for anyone interested in intelligence as a career, or anyone who wants to know how we got from there to here. I listened to the audio, read by Mark Bramhall and produced by Penguin Audio. Viking produced the hardcover.