WASHINGTON: In the face of a lot of what he called “catastrophizing” about the “very volatile time for the country” known as the presidential transition, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper offers a simple message: “It’ll be OK.”
Of course, that reassurance came after Clapper outlined the dark precautions that are taken on Inauguration Day, including the designation of a survivor should much of the government be destroyed during the festivities. Then-Defense Secretary Bob Gates was the designated survivor when President Obama was first sworn in. Clapper, as acting SecDef, recalled he spent the day huddled in a “cave at Fort Ritchie, Maryland.”
Clapper, clearly trying to send a signal to allies and other governments watching what he called “an election cycle that’s sportier than we’re used to,” said he’d been struck by how “professional and courteous” the discussion was at the candidates’ first intelligence briefings two weeks ago. With all the talk by former senior intelligence and national security officials about whether Donald Trump can be trusted with the nuclear codes and whether he has the gravitas and judgment to serve as what we used to call the leader of the free world, Clapper clearly wanted to reassure allies who regard the current election as a toss up between a bad joke and a nightmare.
In a subtle message about the apolitical nature of the Intelligence Community, and how carefully it protects that status, Clapper stressed that the teams that brief Trump and Hillary Clinton do not communicate with the team who provide the president with the Daily Presidential Briefing, the gold standard product of the IC. each candidate’s advisor can ask for briefings on whatever topics they choose. The IC will then advise the other candidate that the briefing is available should they wish to see it.
In another message clearly meant for naysayers who continue to regard climate change as unproven or a Democratic shibboleth, Clapper pointed to one variable that he says will dominate much of the world’s polities for the foreseeable: “One of the main drivers of instability will be climate change.” It will leave governments scrambling to define and hold their borders and struggling to protect food and water sources, Clapper said in what everyone assumes is his last address before the joint INSA/AFCEA National Intelligence Summit.
Clapper didn’t make much news otherwise. He offered his usual mix of gruff straight talk and bad geezer jokes. The audience, knowing this will be one of his last public appearances, wanted him to know they appreciated his 54 years of service to his country, culminating in his tenure as DNI. Unprompted, they rose at the end of his talk and gave him a hearty standing ovation.