The top Republican on the House’s Intelligence panel defended President Obama’s intelligence chief on Friday amid GOP criticism and a call for his firing.
In an interview, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told The Hill that James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, was doing his job and giving senators the most accurate information when he told them that the forces backing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi would likely “prevail” over rebel factions in the long term. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamPentagon should have a civilian chief to give peace a chance Lawmakers eye early exit from Washington Senate passes college anti-Semitism bill MORE (R-S.C.) called on Obama to fire Clapper following his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, saying that the intelligence chief’s comments were “not helpful to our national security interests.”
But Rogers said Clapper’s job is to answer lawmakers as accurately and truthfully as possible, and not to give them responses that are politically preferable or diplomatic in nature. “If you’re going to ask the intelligence director his opinion, then he should be allowed to give you his opinion,” Rogers told The Hill. “And I thought that’s what we wanted our intelligence officials to do.
“He is not the State Department,” Rogers said of Clapper. “If you want your director of national intelligence to act like a diplomat or the State Department, we are in serious trouble. I don’t want that. I want him to tell me what is closest to the facts as they understand them and then let me filter the response from there, through a policymaker’s eyes.
“Sometimes it’s a little frustrating to me that we put those folks in that position,” he added.
Responding to questions from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Clapper told the Senate panel that Gadhafi’s forces had significantly more firepower than the rebel fighters and that, logistically, they would be able to outlast the rebels.
“This is a very fluid situation … and I think the regime has more logistical resources in terms of the equipment,” Clapper said. “They're the most robustly equipped, with Russian equipment to include air defense, artillery, tanks, mechanized equipment, and they appear to be much more disciplined about how they treat and repair that equipment.
“So I just think from a standpoint of attrition .... that over time, I mean, this is kind of a stalemate back and forth, but I think [in] the longer term that the regime will prevail,” Clapper said.
Graham acknowledged that Clapper’s analysis “could prove to be accurate, but it should not have been made in such a public forum. If he felt the need to say what he did, then they should have moved into closed session.”
The White House edged away from Clapper’s comments shortly after the Senate hearing. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon told reporters that the situation in Libya was nuanced and shouldn’t be the subject of blanket statements about whom the likely victor will be.
"I don't think that's the most informative analysis, frankly," said Donilon. "I think the analysis needs to be dynamic and it needs to be multidimensional."
Last month Clapper came under fire when he told House lawmakers that the Muslim Brotherhood group, officially banned in Egypt, was “a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam.”
The next week he revised his comments before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, saying that he was referring to the Muslim Brotherhood's involvement in Egypt’s “largely secular” political process.
Clapper has served as the director of national intelligence for less than one year. Obama appointed him to replace former intelligence chief Dennis Blair last August. Clapper previously served as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) under President Clinton.