On June 5, 2010, President Barack Obama nominated Clapper to replace Dennis C. Blair as United States Director of National Intelligence. Clapper was unanimously confirmed by the Senate for the position on August 5, 2010.
Following the June 2013 leak of documents detailing NSA practice of collecting telephony metadata on millions of Americans’ telephone calls, two U.S. representatives accused Clapper of perjury for telling a congressional committee that the NSA does not collect any type of data on millions of Americans earlier that year. One senator asked for his resignation, and a group of 26 senators complained about Clapper’s responses under questioning. In November 2016, Clapper resigned as director of national intelligence, effective at the end of President Obama's term. In May 2017, he joined the Washington, D.C.-based think tank the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) as a Distinguished Senior Fellow for Intelligence and National Security.
Clapper was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the son of Anne Elizabeth (née Wheatley) and First Lieutenant James Robert Clapper. His father worked in US Army signals intelligence during World War II, retired as Colonel in 1972 and worked as a security guard into the 1980s. His maternal grandfather, James McNeal Wheatley, was an Episcopal minister.
Clapper earned a bachelor of science degree in political science from the University of Maryland in 1963 and a master of science degree in political science from St. Mary's University, Texas in 1970.
After a brief enlistment in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, Clapper transferred to the U.S. Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program. He was commissioned in 1963 as a distinguished military graduate from the University of Maryland. He commanded a signals intelligence detachment based at a listening post in Thailand’s Udon Thani Province, where he flew 73 combat support missions in EC-47s; a signals intelligence SIGINT wing at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, and the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida.
Clapper became director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in November 1991 and retired from active duty in September 1995.
He then spent six years in private industry. From 2001 to June 2006 he was director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency as member of the Defense Intelligence Senior Executive Service (DISES).
From 2006 to 2007, Clapper worked for GeoEye (satellite company) and was an executive on the boards of three government contractors, two of which were doing business with the NGA while he was there: In October 2006 as chief operating officer for the British military intelligence company Detica, now DFI and U.S.–based subsidiary of BAE Systems, also SRA International and Booz Allen Hamilton.
Clapper defended the private sector's role in his 2010 confirmation hearings: "I worked as a contractor for six years myself, so I think I have a good understanding of the contribution that they have made and will continue to make."
For the 2006–2007 academic year, Clapper held the position of Georgetown University’s Intelligence and National Security Alliance Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Intelligence.
While teaching at Georgetown, he was officially nominated by President George W. Bush to be undersecretary of defense for intelligence (USD(I)) on January 29, 2007, and confirmed by the United States Senate on April 11, 2007. He was the second person ever to hold this position, which oversees the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency (NSA), and the National Reconnaissance Office. He also worked closely with the director of national intelligence.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested to President Obama that he nominate Clapper, but both Chairman Dianne Feinstein and Vice-Chairman Kit Bond of the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence had offered reservations regarding his appointment. Obama made the official announcement on June 5, 2010 saying Clapper “possesses a quality that I value in all my advisers: a willingness to tell leaders what we need to know even if it's not what we want to hear.”
On August 5, 2010, the Senate confirmed Clapper in a unanimous vote.
Lawmakers approved his nomination after the Senate Intelligence Committee backed him with a 15–0 vote. During his testimony for the position, Clapper pledged to advance the DNI’s authorities, exert tighter control over programming and budgeting, and provide oversight over the CIA’s use of predator drones in Pakistan.
In August 2010 Clapper announced a new position at the DNI called the deputy director for intelligence integration, to integrate the former posts of deputy director for analysis and deputy director for collections. Robert Cardillo, the deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was tapped to fill the new post.
Budget authority over U.S. Intelligence community
In an agreement between Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Clapper his office assumed administrative control over the National Intelligence Program. Previously the NIP was itemized within the Defense Department budget to keep the line item and dollar amount from public view. In late October 2010 Clapper's office disclosed the top line budget as $53.1 billion, which was below the $75 billion figure circulated in 2010, in the belief the budget change would strengthen the DNI's authority.
in February 2012, Clapper told the Senate that if Iran is attacked over its alleged nuclear weapons program, it could respond by closing the Strait of Hormuz to ships and launch missiles at regional U.S. forces and allies.
Former Defense Intelligence Agency chief Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess told senators Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict. Clapper said it’s “technically feasible” that Tehran could produce a nuclear weapon in one or two years, if its leaders decide to build one, “but practically not likely.” Both men said they did not believe Israel had decided to strike Iran.
Clapper made "intelligence integration" across the Intelligence Community the primary mission of the ODNI. In 2012 the office announced an initiative to create a common information technology desktop for the entire Intelligence Community, moving away from unconnected agency networks to a common enterprise model. In late fiscal 2013 the shared IT infrastructure reached operating capability with plans to bring on all intelligence agencies over the next few years.
On March 12, 2013, during a United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing, Senator Ron Wyden quoted NSA director Keith B. Alexander’s keynote speech at the 2012 DEF CON. Alexander had stated that “Our job is foreign intelligence” and that “those who would want to weave the story that we have millions or hundreds of millions of dossiers on people, is absolutely false.... From my perspective, this is absolute nonsense.” Wyden then asked Clapper, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” He responded, “No, sir.” Wyden asked “It does not?” and Clapper said, “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not wittingly.”
When Edward Snowden was asked during his January 26, 2014, TV interview in Moscow what the decisive moment was or why he blew the whistle, he replied: “Sort of the breaking point was seeing the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress. ... Seeing that really meant for me there was no going back.”
On June 5, 2013, The Guardian published the first of the global surveillance documents leaked by Edward Snowden, including a top secret court order showing that the NSA had collected phone records from over 120 million Verizon subscribers.
The following day, Clapper acknowledged that the NSA collects telephony metadata on millions of Americans’ telephone calls. This metadata information included originating and terminating telephone number, telephone calling card number, International Mobile Station Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, time, and duration of phone calls, but did not include the name, address, or financial information of any subscriber.
On June 7 Clapper was interviewed by Andrea Mitchell on NBC. Clapper said that “I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful manner by saying no” when he testified.
On June 11, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) accused Clapper of not giving a “straight answer,” noting that Clapper's office had been provided with the question a day in advance of the hearing and was given the opportunity following Clapper’s testimony to amend his response.
On June 12, 2013, Representative Justin Amash became the first congressman to openly accuse Director Clapper of criminal perjury, calling for his resignation. In a series of tweets he stated: “It now appears clear that the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, lied under oath to Congress and the American people,” and “Perjury is a serious crime ... [and] Clapper should resign immediately,” U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) said "The director of national intelligence, in March, did directly lie to Congress, which is against the law." Paul later suggested that Clapper might deserve prison time for his testimony.
On June 27, 2013, a group of 26 senators sent him a complaint letter opposing the use of a “body of secret law.”
On July 1, 2013, Clapper apologized, saying that “my response was clearly erroneous—for which I apologize.” On July 2, Clapper said that he had forgotten about the Patriot Act and therefore had given an “erroneous” answer.
On December 19, 2013, seven GOP members of the United States Senate's House Judiciary Committee called on Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate Clapper, stating "witnesses cannot be allowed to lie to Congress."
In January 2014, Robert S. Litt, general counsel to the Office of the DNI, stated that Clapper did not lie to Congress, and in May 2015 clarified that Clapper "had absolutely forgotten the existence of" section 215 of the Patriot Act.
In January 2014 six members of the House of Representatives wrote to President Obama urging him to dismiss Clapper for lying to Congress, but were rebuffed by the White House.
Caitlin Hayden, a White House spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement that Obama has “full faith in Director Clapper’s leadership of the intelligence community. The Director has provided an explanation for his answers to Senator Wyden and made clear that he did not intend to mislead the Congress.”
In March 2014 Clapper banned employees of the intelligence community from unauthorized contact with reporters. The next month he implemented a new prepublication review policy for the ODNI’s current and former employees that prohibits them from citing news reports based on leaks in their unofficial writings.
On March 10, 2015, Wikimedia Foundation filed a lawsuit against Clapper and several other defendants in an attempt to stop the “large-scale search and seizure of internet communications.”
In June 2015 the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced that it had been the target of a data breach targeting the records of as many as 18 million people. The Washington Post has reported that the attack originated in China, citing unnamed government officials.
Speaking at a forum in Washington, D.C., Clapper warned of the danger posed by a capable adversary like the Chinese government and said, “You have to kind of salute the Chinese for what they did.”
The CENTCOM’s intelligence staff was pressured to promote “good news” about the struggle against the Islamic State in Iraq and the civil war in Syria, despite evidence to the contrary. In September 2015, The Guardian reported that Clapper “is in frequent and unusual contact with a military intelligence officer (Army brigadier general Steven Grove) at the center of a growing scandal over rosy portrayals of the war against ISIS.”
The report came amid a Pentagon investigation into accusations that top military officials have pressured analysts into conforming their reports to the Obama administration’s narrative of the fight against ISIS. More than 50 intelligence analysts at CENTCOM, the Pentagon agency covering security interests in nations throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, have supported a formal, written complaint sent to the Defense Department alleging that senior intelligence officers have insisted on changing ISIS reports to make them reflect more positively on U.S. efforts in the region. With Clapper closely communicating with officials who have been implicated in the scandal, questions will arise about how much President Barack Obama—who once suggested that ISIS was a JV team wearing Lakers uniforms—knew about any possible intelligence altering.
In November 2016, Clapper resigned, effective at the end of President Obama's term in January 2017.
In June 2017 Clapper commenced an initial four-week term at the Australian National University (ANU) National Security College in Canberra that includes public lectures on key global and national security issues. Clapper was also expected to take part in the ANU Crawford Australian Leadership Forum, the nation's pre-eminent dialogue of academics, parliamentarians and business leaders.
In 2003, Clapper, then head of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, attempted to explain the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq by asserting that the weapons materials were “unquestionably” shipped out of Iraq to Syria and other countries just before the American invasion, a “personal assessment” that Clapper’s own agency head at the time, David Burpee, “could not provide further evidence to support.”
In an interview on December 20, 2010, with Diane Sawyer of ABC News, Clapper indicated he was completely unaware that 12 alleged terrorists had been arrested in Great Britain earlier that day.
In February 2011, when mass demonstrations were bringing down Mubarak’s presidency in Egypt, Clapper told a House Intelligence Committee hearing that:
“The term ‘Muslim Brotherhood’... is an umbrella term for a variety of movements, in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam.... They have pursued social ends, a betterment of the political order in Egypt, et cetera..... In other countries, there are also chapters or franchises of the Muslim Brotherhood, but there is no overarching agenda, particularly in pursuit of violence, at least internationally.”
The Obama administration took the rare step later that day of correcting its own intelligence chief after the statement drew scrutiny among members of Congress.
In March 2011, Clapper was heard at the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services commenting on the 2011 Libyan civil war that “over the longer term” Gaddafi “will prevail.” This position was loudly questioned by the White House, when National Security Adviser Thomas E. Donilon qualified his statement as a “static and one-dimensional assessment” and argued that “the lost legitimacy [of Gaddafi] matters.” During the same hearing he was also questioned when he neglected to list Iran and North Korea among the nuclear powers that might pose a threat to the United States.
In March 2017 Clapper denied on NBC's "Meet the Press" the existence of a FISA court order allowing the FBI to tap Trump Tower. Clapper also said that he saw no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. He stopped receiving briefings on January 20 and was "not aware of the counterintelligence investigation Director Comey first referred to during his testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee for Intelligence on the 20th of March". CNN stated that Clapper had "taken a major defense away from the White House."
In a speech at Australia's National Press Club in June Clapper accused Trump of "ignorance or disrespect", called the firing of FBI director James Comey "inexcusable", and warned of an "internal assault on our institutions".
In May 2017 Clapper was criticized by some media outlets for a xenophobic remark in an interview with Chuck Todd from Meet the Press. He told NBC's "Meet The Press" that Russian people are "genetically driven" to infiltrate and manipulate American society.
In an August 2017 interview, Clapper stated that U.S. President Donald Trump having access to the nuclear codes is "pretty damn scary" and he questioned his fitness to be in office.
In 1965 Clapper married his wife, Sue, who herself was an NSA employee. They have a daughter, Jennifer, who is a principal of an elementary school in Fairfax County, Virginia, and is married to Jay, a high school teacher.
He has a brother, Mike Clapper from Illinois, and a sister, Chris. He introduced them at the Senate confirmation hearings July 20, 2010.1963 bachelor of science degree in political science, University of Maryland
1970 master of arts degree in political science, St. Mary's University, Texas
1973 Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama
1975 Distinguished graduate, Armed Forces Staff College, Norfolk, Virginia
1976 Air War College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama
1979 National War College, Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C.
1990 Program for Senior Executives in National and International Security, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
1990 Harvard Defense Policy Seminar, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Clapper also holds an honorary doctorate in strategic intelligence from the Joint Military Intelligence College, Washington, D.C., where he taught as an adjunct professor.William Oliver Baker Award of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, 2006
Rosemary Award from the National Security Archive at George Washington University for the "worst open government performance of 2013."
Second lieutenant (June 8, 1963)
First lieutenant (January 8, 1965)
Captain (March 16, 1967)
Major (November 1, 1973)
Lieutenant colonel (April 1, 1976)
Colonel (February 11, 1980)
Brigadier general (October 1, 1985)
Major general (September 1, 1988)
Lieutenant general (November 15, 1991)
May 1963 – March 1964, student, Signal Intelligence Officers Course, Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas
March 1964 – December 1965, analytic branch chief, Air Force Special Communications Center, Kelly Air Force Base, Texas
December 1965 – December 1966, watch officer and air defense analyst, 2nd Air Division (later, 7th Air Force), Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam
December 1966 – June 1970, aide to the commander and command briefer, Air Force Security Service, Kelly Air Force Base, Texas
June 1970 – June 1971, commander, Detachment 3, 6994th Security Squadron, Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand
June 1971 – August 1973, military assistant to the director, National Security Agency, Fort George G. Meade, Md.
August 1973 – August 1974, aide to the commander and intelligence staff officer, Headquarters Air Force Systems Command, Andrews Air Force Base, Md.
August 1974 – September 1975, distinguished graduate, Armed Forces Staff College, Norfolk, Va.
September 1975 – June 1976, chief, signal intelligence branch, Headquarters U.S. Pacific Command, Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii
June 1976 – August 1978, chief, signal intelligence branch, J-23, Headquarters U.S. Pacific Command, Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii
August 1978 – June 1979, student, National War College, National Defense University, Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C.
June 1979 – January 1980, Washington area representative for electronic security command, deputy commander, Fort George G. Meade, Md.
February 1980 – April 1981, commander, 6940th Electronic Security Wing, Fort George G. Meade, Md.
April 1981 – June 1984, director for intelligence plans and systems, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C.
June 1984 – May 1985, commander, Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.
June 1985 – June 1987, assistant chief of staff for intelligence, U.S. Forces Korea, and deputy assistant chief of staff for intelligence, Republic of Korea and U.S. Combined Forces Command
July 1987 – July 1989, director for intelligence, Headquarters U.S. Pacific Command, Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii
July 1989 – March 1990, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, Headquarters Strategic Air Command, Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.
April 1990 – November 1991, assistant chief of staff for intelligence, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C.
November 1991 – 1995, director, Defense Intelligence Agency and General Defense Intelligence Program, Washington, D.C.