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Faces of Defense Intelligence: The Honorable James R. Clapper, Jr.

By DIA History Office

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Editor’s note: The Faces of Defense Intelligence series highlights the accomplishments of former military and civilian intelligence personnel who exemplified the DIA’s moto “excellence in defense of the nation.” This iteration of the series focuses on Director of National Intelligence James Clapper as he retires from service.

“Whatever I did or people think I did or didn't do, I'm not sure I can gauge that personally very well as I walk out the door,” said LtGen James Clapper upon leaving DIA in 1995.” You do leave with somewhat of a sense of unfulfillment because there are still things to be fixed, problems to be resolved, etc. I guess I would rather leave it as modest as I can and say I hoped that people would think of me as someone who cared a lot about the mission, about the people that do it and try to make a difference, and let others judge whether I did or not.”

In 1963 a young Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps graduate took his commission and started the Signal Intelligence Officers Course at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. In the 54 years to follow, James Clapper rose to the rank of lieutenant general and filled assignments as the director for intelligence at U.S. Pacific Command, deputy chief of staff for intelligence at Strategic Air Command, assistant chief of staff for intelligence for the U.S. Air Force, and was appointed as the director of the DIA in November 1991.

His retirement from military service in 1995, though distinguished, was not the end of his service to defense intelligence. After working in the private sector, Clapper became the director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) from 2001-2006, then became the second under secretary of defense for Intelligence until 2010. For the last seven years, James Clapper filled the highest intelligence-related position in the U.S. as the director of national intelligence. During his career, he also served as a consultant for the House Intelligence Committee, the former Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office, the Defense Policy and Science Boards, as president of the Security Affairs Support Association, and on various government panels, boards, commissions and advisory groups. Throughout his storied career, Clapper exemplified leadership as well as DIA’s motto of “excellence in defense of the nation.”

Books will be written about Clapper and his intelligence career. His time as DIA director from November 1991 to August 1995 was noteworthy in itself, with accolades that continue to benefit the agency and wider intelligence community. As director of DIA, he oversaw some of the most significant changes in DIA history. In 1990 DIA had 20 official mission functions; by 1997 that number increased to 57.

Clapper arrived at DIA at a turbulent time. After nearly 50 years of conflict, the Soviet Union collapsed and with that came the end of the Cold War. This transition led to a call for significant cuts to the defense and intelligence budgets.

“There was a lot of pressure on the intelligence community in general and DIA specifically to reap the peace dividend, and there was a mandate from the Congress to reduce the community, which of course has an impact on DIA,” Clapper said.

Conversely, the threat to U.S. interests was diversifying rather than dissipating. The U.S. had just concluded Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm against Iraq, demonstrating the continued possibility of large-scale conventional conflicts in a post-Cold War world, and the asymmetric threat from non-state actors was increasing. Requirements for intelligence support to senior policymakers and in support of military operations were not declining, despite the call for cuts.

“I became convinced that we had entered a critical phase in DIA’s existence,” Clapper said in a 1993 interview. “We needed to make a change … and we needed to make it now. Rather than allowing someone else to do it for us, we chose to do it ourselves.”

Clapper wanted to improve DIA’s ability to provide intelligence to defense customers, particularly the warfighting commands, but that seemed incompatible with the budget cuts and expansion of missions. To manage the changes, he implemented a sweeping reorganization others have described as a “watershed” event in the agency’s history. Although parts of the reorganization were controversial, they helped DIA weather the budget cuts while maintaining strong core capabilities. These efforts were recognized in October 1996 when DIA received its fourth Joint Meritorious Unit Award from the secretary of defense, spanning the period from June 1994 to September 1996.

In 1992, the Defense Authorization Act expanded DIA’s management of imagery exploitation, analysis and dissemination. The legislation also significantly expanded DIA’s role in defense science and technology matters. In this realm, DIA became the IC’s functional manager for measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) in 1992. Additionally, Congress directed that the Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Center (AFMIC), now the National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI), and the Missile and Space Intelligence Center (MSIC) become DIA field production activities. Both organizations were relied upon heavily during Clapper’s tenure with the expansion of DoD support to humanitarian and nonproliferation efforts, and continue to play vital roles today. Nevertheless, the incorporation of the new missions, thousands of additional billets, and dispersed offices outside of DIA Headquarters posed additional management challenges.

Clapper also consolidated human intelligence (HUMINT) in the Defense HUMINT Service (DHS) to preserve the department’s ability to manage HUMINT under the constraints of diminishing resources while more rapidly and efficiently focusing the HUMINT elements of the department on targets worldwide. According to Clapper, this was his most important accomplishment during his tenure as director.

“It was hugely controversial,” Clapper said. “The rationale was, at the time, that since each of the services had their own management structures and hierarchies that savings would accrue by generating more tooth and less tail by folding the strategic HUMINT billets from the services into DIA, but keeping its joint flavor, and thereby saving on management overhead.”

Clapper presented the proposal for the creation of a unified HUMINT service at the annual Joint Review of Intelligence Programs June 11, 1993, which culminated in the Perry Plan in November of that year. This decision prompted positive change both within DIA and in defense intelligence. By October 1995, DHS had more than 2,000 personnel stationed in over 100 locations, including Washington, D.C., supporting DoD missions. DHS met the Perry Plan initial operating capability date of Oct. 1, 1996.

Despite budget cuts, Clapper was committed to maintaining a high level of support to military operations, which required tough decisions and thinking outside the box. In August 1992, Clapper tasked the Joint Chiefs of Staff Directorate for Intelligence (J2) to formulate a concept of operations (CONOPS) for a National Intelligence Support Team (NIST) to be a single point of contact providing national-level, all-source intelligence support from the entire IC to deployed commanders during crisis or contingency operations. NISTs deployed 13 times in the 1990s, acting as a critical link between national- and tactical-level intelligence.

Another step Clapper took in bolstering intelligence support to customers was seeking new technological solutions to communicate information. In September 1990, he signed the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS) charter, marking the founding of the intelligence community’s global, high-speed, classified network. JWICS began with only a few select customers, including the J2, but grew rapidly to a must-have innovation for flag-level officers. After a visit by then-President Bill Clinton to the Pentagon, JWICS was installed in the White House Situation Room. By 1994, the JWICS program office grew from three to 12 employees, and the number of sites rose from the initial three to approximately 50. Today, because of those decisions, JWICS empowers warfighters, intelligence analysts and national decision-makers across the government with a robust, reliable and flexible IP-based communications infrastructure.

Upon his assumption as director, Clapper was also involved in a budget management battle. One of his most important responsibilities was as program manager for the General Defense Intelligence Program (GDIP). The March 1991 plan to restructure management of the GDIP by placing the staff and authority with the assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I), who was a political appointee, raised the risk of politicizing DIA’s intelligence support. The plan would have meant the DIA director had no program-execution authority over the GDIP, though technically responsible for managing that program. Clapper wanted to ensure the director’s role as the GDIP program manager came with the necessary authorities, and his efforts to raise concerns played an influential role in restoring authority to DIA.

Clapper’s tenure marked a significant milestone in the agency’s history for other reasons as well. For some, most important was Clapper’s efforts to emphasize that DIA was part of a larger IC. Clapper commissioned a joint intelligence center (JIC)/joint analysis center (JAC) study, designated himself as the director of military intelligence, and implemented the DoD Intelligence Production Program—a concept revolutionary in its time, which remains valid. During Clapper’s era, JICs and JACs were established in the commands and Clapper led a broader defense intelligence community in his role as GDIP manager.

“It was really the beginning of a new era for DIA,” said former DIA Chief of Staff Louis Andre observed.

While all these changes were occurring, Clapper’s transformations were paying real-time dividends to policymakers and warfighters alike. DIA provided vital geographic, military capabilities, operational, and battle damage assessment intelligence to numerous operations, for which DIA received another Joint Meritorious Unit Award. The award highlighted the “unprecedented level of intelligence support…to meet the real-time requirements of national decision-makers and joint and coalition military commanders…[T]he agency provided vital intelligence to the White House and senior officials during operations in Iraq, to policymakers and on-site operational units in Somalia, offshore Haiti and supporting United Nations Forces in the former Yugoslavia, and to decision-makers during tense periods in Russia and on the Korean Peninsula.”

Clapper maintained that the reorganization, along with “rethinking” the way defense intelligence did business, fit well with the emerging military environment of regional contingencies. Then-Chairman of the then-Joint Chiefs of Staff GEN Colin Powell pointed to the significant reforms in defense intelligence in his February 1993 Report on the Roles, Missions and Functions of the Armed Forces. A major intelligence success, he noted, was the creation of a forward-based JIC, and explained that as a result of the secretary’s 1991 defense intelligence reorganization, it was currently being institutionalized for all the combatant commands.

“You’ve engineered a true revolution in the joint intelligence business that, frankly, no one else could have pulled off,” Powell wrote to Clapper at the end of his DIA tenure.

There is no doubt the 1990s marked a milestone in DIA’s history. In the 1980s, DIA had been largely focused on military planning, with the services providing the tactical intelligence support. Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm changed that. DIA came to the forefront in supporting the operating forces, and the agency’s role grew with Clapper’s retooling. In many ways DIA’s operational support role can be traced to the end of the Cold War and introduction of the new post-Cold War era under his leadership.