The former Director of National Intelligence's candid and compelling account of the intelligence community's successes--and failures--in facing some of the greatest threats to America
When he stepped down in January 2017 as the fourth United States director of national intelligence, James Clapper had been President Obama's senior intelligence adviser for six and a half years, longer than his three predecessors combined. He led the U.S. intelligence community through a period that included the raid on Osama bin Laden, the Benghazi attack, the leaks of Edward Snowden, and Russia's influence operation during the 2016 U.S. election campaign. In Facts and Fears, Clapper traces his career through the growing threat of cyberattacks, his relationships with presidents and Congress, and the truth about Russia's role in the presidential election. He describes, in the wake of Snowden and WikiLeaks, his efforts to make intelligence more transparent and to push back against the suspicion that Americans' private lives are subject to surveillance. Finally, it was living through Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and seeing how the foundations of American democracy were--and continue to be--undermined by a foreign power that led him to break with his instincts honed through more than five decades in the intelligence profession to share his inside experience.
Clapper considers such controversial questions as, Is intelligence ethical? Is it moral to intercept communications or to photograph closed societies from orbit? What are the limits of what we should be allowed to do? What protections should we give to the private citizens of the world, not to mention our fellow Americans? Are there times when intelligence officers can lose credibility as unbiased reporters of hard truths by inserting themselves into policy decisions?
Facts and Fears offers a privileged look inside the U.S. intelligence community and, with the frankness and professionalism for which James Clapper is known, addresses some of the most difficult challenges in our nation's history.
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About the Author
Trey Brown is a 1997 graduate of the US Naval Academy who started his career as a helicopter pilot and was twice deployed to the Persian Gulf before returning to teach at his alma mater. After serving as a US Navy spokesman from the Pentagon, he joined the Office of the DNI, where he began writing speeches in 2011. He has written hundreds of speeches, eight which were published in the world's top speechwriting journal, Vital Speeches of the Day, and was James Clapper's speechwriter for his final three years as DNI. Clapper's speech to Morehouse College, "Why Black Lives Matter to US Intelligence" received the grand prize of the 2017 international Cicero speechwriting award.
Read an Excerpt
Born into the Intelligence Business
When I accepted President Obama's offer to be the director of national intelligence, I was pushing seventy years old. Today, of course, I'm dragging it closer and closer to eighty. One reason that's significant is that both the earliest notions of a US Intelligence Community and the menace of the Soviet threat to the West were born about the same time as I was. My father was drafted into the Army in 1944, when I was three years old. As a signals intelligence officer during the war, he supported intercepting Japanese and German communications used to help the Allies win the war. He became deeply committed to the mission and respected the people he worked with, and before the ink was dry on the Japanese instrument of unconditional surrender, he'd decided to stay in the Army while most everyone else was demobilizing and shedding the uniform. Growing up and moving around from one signals intelligence site to another, I learned from a very early age to never—never—talk about what my dad did. I think my parents would be shocked, and my mother also mildly amused, that after retiring from the intelligence profession in 2017, I'd try to publicly explain what the Intelligence Community—the "IC"—is, what it does, and what it should stand for.
For me, this seven-decade-and-more journey started with a bang, and not a good one. My earliest vivid memory is of my mother and me entering the port of Leghorn (Livorno), Italy, in 1946, on our way to meet my dad in Eritrea, on the Horn of Africa. We were among the first US dependents to cross the Atlantic after the war, a trip my mother portrayed as a big adventure—I'm sure to calm her own apprehensions as much as mine. US forces had liberated the city of Leghorn from the Germans in 1944 and still occupied it and controlled the harbor, but postwar Italy wasn't precisely safe for US dependents, or really for anyone. As our troopship, the USS Fred T. Berry, entered the harbor, I heard and felt an explosion, and the ship went dead in the water. Its alarm bells started ringing, three rings and a pause, and then repeated—I can still hear the shrill sound—and we rushed topside. Huddling on the deck, I felt my mother gripping the back of my far-too-big life preserver and watched as lifeboats were lowered over the side. She told me years later that the crew had barely kept the ship from sinking. As we were towed into port, the mast tops of sunken ships slowly passed to either side, looking every bit like crosses in a graveyard for vessels not as fortunate as ours.
We spent a couple of weeks in Leghorn while the rudder was repaired and then continued on our voyage to Africa. In Alexandria, my dad bribed the harbor pilot with a carton of cigarettes to take him out to meet us as our ship made its way into port. I don't recall arriving in Egypt, but my second vivid childhood memory is of leaving, my mother shaking me from sleep in a hotel in Cairo while my dad quickly packed our bags. She told me, calmly but urgently, that we had to go to Payne Field, Cairo's airport, and leave the country immediately. I was barely awake as we raced to board an airplane. The family legend is that King Farouk had met them that night in the hotel bar, which must have seemed like amazing luck, at least until the king made a pass at my mother, my dad tried to punch him, and we all had to depart in a hurry. It's not good to take a swing at the king.
It took eight weeks for my mother and me to travel from Fort Wayne, Indiana, to the primitive but very pretty city of Asmara, Eritrea, which sat atop a 7,500-foot-high plateau. Today Eritrea is a small, independent, and largely forgotten nation on the Red Sea, bordering the African powerhouses of Ethiopia and Sudan. Before the war, it had been in the Italian colony of Abyssinia, but when I arrived in 1946 it was part of Ethiopia, and the long war resulting in Eritrean independence was still a few years off. The locals viewed Americans with reverence; in their eyes we were rich and powerful, even though we lived in a converted barracks building on a former Italian Navy communications station. I made friends, both with the local kids and a few other Army brats, and learned Italian to fluency, but, of course, have forgotten it all since.
One day a friend and I were playing in the Army salvage dump, which was off-limits, but there was so much cool military equipment left over from the war, it was hard to stay away. I picked up a glass vial and dumped out what appeared to be rainwater but was in fact sulfuric acid, which ran down my left leg. I knew I was in trouble when part of my pants began to disappear and my leg started steaming. I ran home, scared to death. The Asmara doctor—one of only seven officers on the post—had just stopped by our quarters, and he and my mother dumped me in the bathtub, emptying a ten-pound bag of baking soda my mother had just bought at the commissary onto me, which was exactly the right emergency procedure. My recovery took months and involved a lot of painful skin grafts, and my dad never forgave himself, since he was the logistics officer responsible for the dump. My accident convinced them that remote stations might not have adequate medical care for small children prone to self-inflicted disasters, and so, in 1948, when I was seven and my parents learned my mother was pregnant, they decided it was time to return to the States.
Some forty-three years later, when I was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, I visited Asmara and walked around the compound, which was by then an abandoned Eritrean Army post. I was amazed how dinky it seemed compared to the huge complex I remembered, but it was unmistakably the same place. I found the foundation footings of what had been our quarters, and the original Italian Navy communications towers were still there.
My memories of the trip back to the United States are as vivid as those of the trip to Eritrea. We flew out on Ethiopian Airlines, which consisted of a few olive drab B-17s with "EAL" printed on their tails. Our pilot, "Bail Out" Wicker, told us he got his name because he'd parachuted out of more than one B-17 during the war. That did not inspire confidence in seven-year-old Jimmy Clapper, but thankfully we encountered no emergencies on our flight. I will never forget sitting in the nose bubble, which still had its machine-gun mount, and flying into Payne Field, where planes abandoned after the war were parked in the desert as far as the eye could see: fighters, bombers, transport planes, all baking in the sun. From Cairo, we flew to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and stayed five days, waiting for a plane to Germany. I remember standing outside our motel in short pants as the blowing sand stung my legs. We flew on a big, slow C-54 (a redesignated DC-4) from Dhahran to Frankfurt, which was still in rubble, with people everywhere begging for handouts. We stayed overnight in Bad Soden, outside the city, with no potable water, and I recall being very thirsty. From Frankfurt, we spent a day and a half on a train to Bremerhaven, single-tracking the whole way and passing mile after mile of abandoned or destroyed rolling stock: locomotives, tankers, passenger cars, and freight cars. In retrospect, Germany's recovery from the war is a remarkable achievement. Finally, we sailed back to the United States on another converted troopship.
My dad was assigned to Vint Hill Farms Station in Virginia, which was at the time an Army signals intelligence post outside Washington. I was a huge fan of Superman and Batman, and I had a large collection of their comics, which I kept in strict chronological order and took very good care of. They'd be worth a fortune today. But when we had to relocate again, there were strict weight limits for transporting household goods and my parents didn't want to use up their allowance with a lot of comic books. I was told we had to leave them behind, and so, with much regret, I handed over my entire pristine-condition collection to a bratty four-year-old girl named Sue. Seventeen years later, after many more moves for both of us, I married Sue, despite the fact that she no longer had my comics.
I wasn't aware of it, but that was a tough move for my parents, too, as we were forced to separate for a while. In 1950, after the North Koreans invaded South Korea, my dad was sent to Chitose, Japan, as the second-in-command of a small Army signals intelligence unit supporting the war effort. Chitose is on Hokkaido, the second largest, northernmost, and least populated of Japan's four main islands. It's just across the Sea of Japan and on about the same latitude as Vladivostok, Russia. Because we couldn't join him until suitable facilities for dependents were built, my mother, sister, and I returned to Fort Wayne, living with my grandparents on their 160 acres while I was in fourth grade and part of fifth, before we joined my dad near the end of 1951.
Regular Army soldiers viewed the signals intelligence guys in the Army Security Agency as having more brains than brawn and more of an affinity for electronics than shooting, fighting, and sleeping on the ground. But in Chitose, every now and then the commanding officer and my dad wanted to remind the troops that they were part of the Army, and so they'd take the signals intelligence unit to the field and practice putting up tents, operating a field mess, and doing weapons proficiency training. My dad took me along on one of these summer encampments, equipped with cut-down fatigues, a web belt, a canteen, the smallest helmet liner my dad could find, and even a small backpack. The first sergeant, the senior enlisted man in the unit, took a shine to me and let me carry his (unloaded) M1 rifle, or maybe he saw me as a convenient way to get out of having to carry it himself. Either way, it was a cool experience for an eleven-year-old, and undoubtedly something that can't be done in today's Army, even on Bring Your Child to Work Day.
I was enamored with the little I knew of my dad's work, and I was learning a lot about soldiering from watching him, but it was something my mother did in Chitose in 1952 that had a lifelong impact on how I viewed the world. This was before the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling that desegregated schools in the States, but it was four years after President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, banning racial discrimination in the military. The executive order may have desegregated the armed forces institutionally, but not socially.
Much of the social life on military bases, particularly overseas, and certainly on the remote base in Chitose, was centered on the Officers' Club. On Sundays the club always served a fancy brunch, putting out its best linen and china and hiring a Japanese band to play and sing its amusing interpretations of popular American songs. The officers, including my dad, who was then a captain, wore dress uniforms, while their wives were in their Sunday best, complete with hats and white gloves. Even the kids dressed up, which for me was torture.
At my age, I didn't know and didn't care about who the senior officers in the club were; I didn't know the colonels and lieutenant colonels. But one Sunday, I recognized my dentist, who was a first lieutenant, a junior Army officer like my dad, and one of the very few black Army officers on the base. On that day my family had a prime table near the band, but when my dentist came in, he took a seat by himself on the perimeter of the room. I noticed him there but didn't think much of it. When the music stopped, my mother—and I'm sure she picked this timing on purpose—stood up and rather ostentatiously walked over to my dentist's table. Many of the officers and their wives in the room noticed and pointedly watched her. She talked with him for a minute or two, invited him to sit with us, took him by the hand, and led him through the center of the room to our table. As she did, all the senior officers began staring at my dad, their faces projecting their unspoken questions—What is your wife doing? Can't you get her under control? I'll never forget my dad's expression—a mixture of amusement, admiration, and fear. But to his great credit, he made my sister and me shift our chairs to make room at the table for our guest.
There may have been consequences for my parents, although if there were, they never mentioned them. In fact, my mother never said a word about what she'd done, even though she spoke to me about a lot of other things, sometimes incessantly. That may be why I remember that Sunday brunch so vividly, even though it was more than sixty-five years ago. When I was at a very impressionable age, my mother showed me that the color of someone's skin doesn't determine the human dignity they deserve. That lesson stayed with me and influenced decisions I've made in both my personal and professional lives.
When my family left Japan in 1953, en route to Littleton, Massachusetts, my sister and I were parked with my mother's parents in Philadelphia. This was a good deal for me, because my grandparents let me stay up as late as I wanted to watch TV. Television was a great novelty, since we didn't have one in Japan. On Friday nights, the old movies would end about 12:30, and one night I did the 1950s equivalent of channel surfing, which required actually walking up to the set and manually turning the selector dial. There were only four channels, and one night I stopped between channels four and five—I'll never forget this—because I heard voices speaking in a clipped cadence. There was no picture, just voices. I listened for maybe fifteen minutes as they batted words and numbers back and forth in speech patterns bordering on the nonsensical. Finally I figured out that I'd stumbled onto the broadcast frequency of the Philadelphia Police Department dispatcher. I wanted to hear more, but my arm was getting tired, so I went to the kitchen, found some toothpicks, and stuck them in the dial to secure it. That's right, I "hacked" the Philadelphia Police Department, using my grandparents' black-and-white TV set and some toothpicks.
The next night I was prepared with a map of the city of Philadelphia and began plotting the addresses where the police cruisers were dispatched. After a few nighttime surveillance sessions, I figured out where the police district boundaries were, based on which cruisers responded to specific locations. I wrote down anything they said that I didn’t understand,and kept listening until I had figured out what all the “10” codes (10‑4, 10‑5, etc.) were, the system for call signs, and the personal identifiers for lieutenants and above. I got a pack of index cards to keep track of all the facts I was collecting. Soon I was staying up every night to build my “database.” About a month later, when my parents came to Philadelphia to retrieve my sister and me, my dad asked, “So what’ve you been up to this summer?” I showed him my map and my card files, and I gave him a thorough briefing on how police operations worked in the city. I’ll never forget the expression on his face as he exclaimed, “My God, I’ve raised my own replacement!”
Table of Contents
Introduction: Beyond Their Wildest Imagination 1
1 Born into the Intelligence Business 5
2 Command and Controversy 37
3 The Peace Dividend 63
4 9/11 and Return to Service 88
5 The Second Most Thankless Job in Washington 128
6 Benghazi 157
7 Consumed by Money 182
8 Snowden 214
9 Not a Diplomat 250
10 Unpredictable Instability 283
11 The Election 312
12 Facts and Fears 357
Afterword: Speaking Truth to Power 401
Glossary of Abbreviations 423