The Director of National Intelligence Stares Blankly When Asked About Major International Counterterrorism Operation


One would think — nay, hope — that Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano's assurances that her department is working "364 days a year" to combat terrorism would be the most embarrassing part of Diane Sawyer's three-way interview with Napolitano, Chief Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, which was taped Monday but aired on ABC World News last night. But look, that was just a slip of the tongue. Napolitano briefly forgot how many days are in a year. Sometimes we forget how old we are. It happens.

Much worse though was when Sawyer asked Clapper about the arrests of twelve terror suspects in London (and, she didn't mention, other British cities) earlier that morning — the country's largest terror sweep since April of 2009. His answer consisted of a confused side-glance and a few uncomfortable moments of silence before being bailed out by Brennan. Later in the interview, Clapper offers no explanation for how he could have been unaware of such a significant and widely reported development. His office later released a statement calling Sawyer's question "ambiguous" and insisting that "the DNI's knowledge of the threat streams in Europe is profound and multi-dimensional, and any suggestion otherwise is inaccurate." Oh, okay.

Update: Actually the question wasn't ambiguous at all, Clapper's office now admits: “Director Clapper had not yet been briefed on the arrests in the United Kingdom at the time of this interview taping,” ODNI spokeswoman Jamie Smith said in a statement. He was working on other things and "wasn't immediately briefed on London because it didn't appear to have a homeland nexus and there was no immediate action by the DNI required. Nevertheless, he should have been briefed on the arrests, and steps have been taken to ensure that he is in the future. The intelligence community as a whole was fully aware of this development and tracking it closely.”