President Obama is angry over recent public disclosures of classified information in Washington, and the intelligence community is re-evaluating the post-Sept. 11 push for greater intelligence-sharing, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Wednesday.
“We are working on information-sharing initiatives across the board,” Mr. Clapper said in a speech. “But the classic dilemma of need to share versus need to know is still with us. And I would observe that the Wikileaks episode represents what I would consider a big yellow flag. I think it is going to have a very chilling effect on the need to share.”
The remarks at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington came in sharp contrast to his predecessors who called for increased information among the 16 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community. Indeed, the need for greater interagency intelligence-sharing was a key feature of not only the Sept. 11 commission’s final report, but later reviews of U.S. government lapses in attacks like the Fort Hood massacre and the near bombing of a Northwest Airlines jet on Dec. 25.
Wikileaks, a website that gathers and releases internal documents, made public in July thousands of U.S. military field reports from Afghanistan that included sensitive information, such as the identities of Afghan nationals who spied for the United States. The disclosures prompted the Taliban militia to announce a campaign to find and kill so-called collaborators.
Mr. Clapper said the leaks are upsetting Mr. Obama.
“I was at a meeting yesterday with the president,” he said. “I was ashamed to have to sit there and listen to the president express his great angst about the leaking that is going on here in this town.”
The intelligence chief continued, chastising “anonymous senior intelligence officials who, for whatever reason, get their jollies from blabbing to the media.”
Mr. Clapper added that “the president remarked, ‘the irony here is people engaged in intelligence can turn around and talk about it publicly.’”
In voicing criticism of leaks to Mr. Clapper, Mr. Obama joins a long list of presidents frustrated by the publication of sensitive government information in the press. President Nixon set up a counterleak squad known as the “plumbers” after Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst, gave the New York Times a secret history of the Vietnam War known as the Pentagon Papers.
Mr. Clapper, who was sworn in as the fourth director of national intelligence on Aug. 9, said he has sought to emphasize counterintelligence — the identification and countering of foreign spies, work that requires compartmentation, or tightly controlling intelligence data.
“There is always this dilemma between compartmentation and sharing and collaboration and all that sort of thing,” he said. “In this day and age with the hemorrhage of leaks in this town, I think compartmentation, appropriate, reasonable compartmentation, is the right thing to do.”
Earlier directors of intelligence voiced different concerns following the report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States, or the Sept. 11 commission, that criticized intelligence agencies for failing to connect the dots despite having pieces of intelligence that might have averted the attacks.
The final report recommended that “information procedures should provide incentives for sharing, to restore a better balance between security and shared knowledge.”
Thomas Kean, former New Jersey governor who co-chaired the Sept. 11 commission, said he understood Mr. Clapper’s concerns, but said he favored greater intelligence sharing.
“I understand exactly what he is saying,” Mr. Kean, who was in the audience for Mr. Clapper’s speech, said in an interview. “On the other hand, if the agencies cannot exchange the bits of information they have, we can’t always put together the puzzle that captures these guys and stops these plots.”
Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said he thought Mr. Clapper’s remarks on intelligence sharing were “very reasonable.”
“For people who say give everything to everybody, that is not a good way to go about the intelligence business,” Mr. Rogers said. “The struggle is finding the balance.”
Mr. Obama’s Justice Department has pursued prosecutions against government employees who provided information to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in an interview that the president’s outrage is misplaced.
“I think it’s ironic that the president is so concerned about leaks when he sanctioned what seems to be a mass secret spilling by his top aids for the [Bob] Woodward book,” Mr. Bond said.
Mr. Woodward’s book, “Obama’s War,” includes lengthy passages that quote classified memos and briefings that are attributed in part to senior White House officials. One such passage discloses that the CIA maintains a 3,000-troop army in northwestern Pakistan.
“The book has described briefings and materials to which only a few people have had access,” Mr. Bond said.
• Eli Lake can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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