WASHINGTON: Hacks are hard to do damage assessments on. Just ask Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper about the Chinese theft of data from the Office of Personnel Management.
“We don’t actually know what was actually exfiltrated,” Clapper told several hundred people at Georgetown University’s Healy Hall today. Why don’t we really know if 5.6 million fingerprints — or 4.3 million or 2.7 million — were stolen, not to mention all the other personal identification information? “We don’t have enough granularity on the forensics,” the DNI explained. This means the Intelligence Community can’t really tell who’s been affected. It’s especially difficult for anyone working under cover, Clapper noted, The assumption has to be made, it seems, that a great many CIA and DIA employees who’ve operated overseas under assumed names may be compromised. “It’s of great concern to us.”
In what does seem a bit ironic. Clapper, NGA Director Robert Cardillo and a dozen other senior intelligence officials, argued throughout the ‘Succeeding in the Open’ conference that the IC needs to give the American public (and its allies) a clearer idea of what it does and, perhaps more important, why it does it. The principal reason: the Edward Snowden revelations caused such great shock among a global public seemingly ignorant of capabilities that many observers of the military and intelligence worlds had long assumed the US possessed.
“Some would say we were dragged kicking and screaming, but that’s a good thing,” Clapper said, appearing to mean it. We heard from a range of senior intelligence officials during the day about the importance of the balance between protecting secrets that need protecting — mission sensitive was a common term — and the hunger for the citizens of a democracy for insight on what their government is doing.
“We have to be more transparent about the things we can talk about,” Clapper noted with his characteristic simplicity. (He can, as befits a senior intelligence official, obfuscate, dodge and wiggle with the best of them!)
Clapper pointed to the recent declassification of 2,500 Presidential Daily briefings — the most sensitive documents in American national security — as a clear demonstration of the IC’s intent to be more open, though he also noted it’s been a long time coming and was started years before Snowden broke the law and violated his oath.
Perhaps the most revealing moment of Clapper’s appearance occurred when he was asked if he thought greater transparency would reduce the likelihood that intelligence failures would be excoriated: “Probably not, truthfully.” Oversight and probes to ensure failures aren’t repeated are, after all, an integral part of the intelligence process. Finding out what is happening and why is what they do in the service of their country. Don’t forget the words on the face of CIA Headquarters from the Gospel according to St. John: “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”