Spy Games: General Clapper in History


by Ed Timperlake

The US Intelligence Community is a famously federated league of like-minded sleuths conjoined by parallel mandates.

It is not dysfunctional, merely less effective than it has to be. Like any large cobbled together organization the Intelligence Community (IC) operates on the maxim that “people are people,” and that the system, which now has a Director of National Intelligence (DNI) overseeing its vast responsibilities, will somehow overcome its rivalries and institutional  priorities to provide the President with accurate and timely intelligence. The quality of the people, as everywhere, is uneven: Some are dedicated and brilliant and extremely good at what they do while others are less good and less clearly focused.

Organizationally it is extremely difficult to get 16 separate elements to arrive at a consensus on threat assessments in a dynamic changing world. Getting the best IC products to both the US National Command Authority  and the Congress, however, is essential to US security and, indeed, survival. .

Accurate and timely IC reporting will drive significant budgeting allocations to US fighting forces and also greatly aid the services mission to support, equip and train the needed forces. But even more importantly, IC success may be unheralded and conflict avoided with lives saved; IC failures, however, can have significant consequences for war and peace as the mere reference to 9/11 indicates.

What confidence should anyone have in DNI’s consensus reporting on Iranian Nukes? Credit Image: Bigstock

The most recent example of timely intelligence warning is testimony from General Fraser USAF Commanding General of SOUTHCOM pointing up significant and growing Iranian intelligence operations in his area of responsibility—Central and South America, including Caribbean Island  nations. The general is 100% correct based on my personal experience working with the FBI, who are extremely vigilant to Iranian networks.

As Director, Technology Assessment, International Technology Security/OSD I was the DOD liaison to the National Counterintelligence Executive Committee. I saw personally how forward thinking the FBI is on Iranian activity. Focusing on Iranian agents will cover identifying collectors and agents of influence, something every country with an espionage operation has in play. However, the Iranians also bring direct violence as part of their tradecraft including murder.

Moreover, intelligence I received at ITS from 2006 on indicated Middle East terrorist, especially Iranian, focus on South America, Central America and the Caribbean as America’s soft underbelly. The fact DNI did not include this region in his most recent national threat assessment should therefore be of significant concern.

It is useful to look at General James Clapper’s intelligence background as an indicator of his successful performance as DNI.

Clapper completed a successful tour as director of DIA, and moved on the head up the Geospatial Intelligence Agency. There, he did a reportedly good job, but somehow incurred the disdain of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and was replaced. When Robert Gates, who came up from the career IC ranks, replaced Rumsfeld, he rescued Clapper from intelligence oblivion and made him undersecretary of defense for intelligence. This in turn set him up as a potential default candidate for DNI each time the musical chairs inherent in that appointment stopped. And Gates then became his sponsor for the DNI job.

Clapper, like Gates himself, was a consummate process guy, good at making the normal intelligence machinery work, and not particularly consumed at shaking up the system to insure he had the maverick outlying inputs that are ultimately the most important product of the system.

A relationship from his tenure at DIA, however, brought Clapper in from the cold at NGA. At the time of Ukrainian independence he had been befriended by Igor Smeshko, then the Ukrainian military attaché in Washington, and after 2000 the head of Ukrainian intelligence. Ukraine became part of the coalition fighting the Iraq war, and Smeshko, became a prime source of the intelligence underlying the disposition of Russian WMD out of Iraq. Smeshko established that the Russians, as part of its normal policy of denial and deception in covering up its armament sales in the Middle East and elsewhere, were the architects and implementers of the disappearance of some of Saddam’s weapons.

It is a known fact that Iraq had chemical weapons and actually used them in combat.

My office had confirmed and catalogued the inventory of high-powered conventional weapons in Iraq, an inventory that compared in its relative size to that of the US. When the expected quantities of  chemical weapons were not found, the press developed the myth that they were non-existent.

Consequently, the opponents of President Bush who had opposed the war took up the mantra that “Bush lied and people died.” This was the Big Lie that was to dominate the ongoing debate despite daily proof provided by Smeshko and others that it had been moved out of the  country by the Russians in an organized effort. Some facts should clarify what really happened in a very murky time, and how General Clapper came into the picture to help confirm the dispersion of chemical weapons into Syria and Lebanon.

In the early stages of US and allied combat in Iraq, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for International Technology Security, John A. Shaw, who had thirty five years of senior experience in dealing with arms and technology transfers and had served as inspector general overseeing these issues at the State and Defense departments, was given particular responsibility for determining the disposition and whereabouts of Iraqi weaponry in the immediate aftermath of the war.

In addition to senior staff missions to Iraq and the employment of a variety of irregular agents on the ground in Iraq, Shaw had several meetings with Smeshko’s senior people and established that significant tonnage of both chemical weapons components and other heavy explosives  had been transported out of the country in the month preceding the invasion. Shaw had had a long connection with the head of MI6 and had worked with him on several Iraq related matters since the beginning of the war, and arranged a series of meetings with Smeshko in London  under MI6’s aegis. Smeshko had particularly asked to have General Clapper present, and Shaw had him included.

The meetings in London in the early spring of 2004 had two parts: The head of MI6 met privately with Smeshko but had his key people interact with the others at the communal meetings. As former undersecretary John Shaw tells it,

“The information on the heavy explosives (which were also missing) and WMD (especially chemical munitions) and their movement out of Iraq by the Russians came from Igor Shmeshko the head of Ukrainian intelligence. I arranged a meeting in London via an old friend who was  then head of MI6, along with Gen. James Clapper, former head of DIA who had known Smeshko for years and who had been deputized by George Tenant to represent him there.”

“There were two meetings and a farewell postscript in the lobby of Smeshko’s hotel with only the Americans and the Ukrainians. The first was a dinner in the Director’s dining room at the Vauxhall Cross headquarters of MI6, and the second the following morning at a Regency  terrace building off Pall Mall. Clapper got there only for the later meeting and concentrated on renewing his relationship with Smeshko while the Brits and I were focused on weaponry coming out of Iraq and Iranian efforts to obtain various weapons and components. In the end he  got Smeshko and we got the intelligence we wanted.”

Smeshko confirmed the Russian transport by both road and air of Saddam’s weaponry to Syria in the period just before the war.

This reflected the detailed reports I had had from my own irregulars on the ground on truck convoys moving from Baghdad toward the Syrian border as  well as Clapper’s satellite images of those movements. Smeshko promised detailed reports on what was being moved and the units responsible. Our people on the ground had already identified several specific destinations for this materiel, later confirmed by a Dutch journalist.”

Needless to say all of this information did not fit a media template, especially at the media narrative bumper sticker level—but it was real and happened. The best proof of that transfer comes from a planned explosion of a large quantity of those materials along the lines of the  Oklahoma City bombing in the capitol of Jordan, where thousands of Iraqis had fled. Fortunately, the attack was stopped in Amman just before it was intended to occur.

In a very underreported story the Jordan Intelligence service often said to be second only to Israel’s Mossad in Middle East intelligence circles, foiled the chemical attack, in April 2004, confiscated the explosives and arrested several people. Terrorist operatives were going to use 20 tons of chemical munitions to try and kill 80.000 people in Aman.

The materials all came from Syria and could not have been put together from Syrian stores or manufactured in sufficient quantity prior to the attack unless they were those exported by the Russians. In retrospect this now looks like a use it or lose it attack perhaps by some of Saddam’s hard-core supporters and/or deadly Al Quadia operatives.

Had the attack been carried out it would have been the story of the year. As the explosion did not occur, the story disappeared after a few days.

Now again Syria is the focal point of news about WMD stockpiles.

This time openly confirmed by US Department of State- a Bangor (Maine) Daily News, headline “State Department quietly warning region about Syrian WNDs” Josh Rogan, February 24 2012.

“This week, the State Department sent a diplomatic demarche to Syria’s neighbors Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, warning them about the possibility of Syria’s WMDs crossing their borders and offering U.S. government help in dealing with the problem, three Obama administration officials confirmed”

“Syria is believed to have a substantial chemical weapons program, which includes mustard gas and sophisticated nerve agents, such as saran gas, as well as biological weapons.”

“The administration is also working closely with the Jordanians on the issue. A Jordanian military delegation was at the Pentagon Thursday to meet with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.”

Again in history, Russia and DNI’s path cross in a murky IC situation.

It has been widely known that the Russians have been active in Syria with military and technical support, and there are now serious press reports about increased Russian presence with their troops who have special training arriving in Syria. The Russians are going out of their way to spin and minimize such reporting just like they did when they were accused of orchestrating the removal of chemical munitions in Iraq.

The problem is DNI has let Senator McCain position himself as an advocate for airstrikes that might now have a higher probability of directly killing Russian troops while also blasting chemical and biological agents all over the place including potentially killing rebels.

Again it is all very confusing and a fast breaking situation.

However, I do not think Senator McCain wants to follow the path of General Clark in the Balkans when his order to a British General to confront a Russian military held position generated a legendary historic response by General Sir Mike Jackson-“I’m not going to start the Third World War for you”.

The bottom line: what confidence should anyone have in DNI’s consensus reporting on Iranian Nukes with this track record?

Nonetheless, one additional difference that must be pointed out.  Unlike Syria, which has an active rebel movement, if foreign nationals, in or out of uniform, are in Iran supporting Iranian leader’s quest to develop weapons that can totally destroy Israel and they are hit in any attack– then tough luck-they should have known better.