Friday, January 06, 2006

Clapper out at NGA

Today's Baltimore Sun is reporting that (Ret) Lt Gen James Clapper, head of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) will be leaving his post in June, after apparently being forced out by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

According to the paper, Clapper asked for an extension of his original, four-year contract, but Rumsfeld declined. Clapper joined the agency in September 2001 and was widely credited for making the agency more relevant--and useful--for its customers. The NGA (formerly known as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, or NIMA) analyzes information collected by imaging platforms (including spy satellites), and produces high-quality maps and topographical products for military and civilian clients.

Rumsfeld apparently clashed with Clapper over his testimony before Congress in 2004, when he stated that his agency would not be harmed if it was placed under the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI). The Defense Secretary was concerned that DNI control would hurt Pentagon access to intelligence information. Much of the funding for intelligence agencies, personnel and programs--up to 80%--flows through the DOD.

Clapper's represents something of a changing of the guard at the top of the U.S. intelligence community. He is the last of the intelligence agency chiefs who were in place during the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. He served four years as head of the NGA--the longest tenure of any director in the agency's history. Clapper is a former Air Force intelligence officer who headed the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) before retiring in the early 1990s.

The decision not to extend Clapper's contract indicates that Don Rumsfeld remains firmly in charge of DOD's intelligence apparatus. Last year, he refused to extend the appointment of Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and replaced him with Lt Gen Michael Maples, an Army officer with extensive operational experience, but only a limited intelligence background. If the DIA hire is any indication, Rumsfeld may be looking for an outsider to run NGA.

Rumsfeld's "management" of his intelligence agencies is interesting, for several reasons. First, his hiring of General Maples suggests a degree of dissatisfaction with "traditional" intelligence leadership, and a desire to forge closer ties between the spooks and their customers. Secondly, it suggests a minor power struggle between the SecDef and the DNI, John Negroponte. While Ambassador Negroponte may have the overall handle on national intelligence, Don Rumsfeld is exercising tight control over the intel elements that fall in his domain. It would be interesting to note what coordination--if any--occurred between Rumsfeld and Negroponte in the decision to replace General Clapper.

Rumsfeld's actions may also result in greater influence on two major reforms within the intelligence community. Before his depature from DIA, Vice Admiral Jacoby had embarked on a major review of the defense intelligence analysis process. However, it's still unclear what direction that effort will take under General Maples. At NGA, General Clapper had established his agency as the community lead for Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT), a host of cutting-edge technologies that have become increasingly critical for the intelligence community. Will NGA's "appropriation" of MASINT survive Clapper's departure, or will there be push back from other agencies, notably DIA.

One thing's certain: the battle to reform and reshape the intelligence community is far from finished, and Mr. Rumsfeld intends to have a major say in how that task is accomplished.

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