WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon's new intelligence chief is rolling back some of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's controversial policies, which expanded the Pentagon's spy operations and worked independently of other intelligence agencies, current and former officials said.
Retired Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr. is aligning the Pentagon's intelligence initiatives with those of the director of national intelligence, John M. McConnell, and will begin to count McConnell as his boss - a significant shift from the autonomy the office enjoyed under Rumsfeld. This change follows Clapper's proposal to eliminate a controversial database, known as Talon, which categorized war protesters as security threats.
Lawmakers have been highly critical of the slow progress of the director of national intelligence in pulling the 16 spy agencies behind a common goal, and several have pointed to the Pentagon as a key obstacle to the director's success.
Former intelligence officials expect more change as Clapper continues his review of an array of sensitive programs launched by his predecessor, Stephen A. Cambone.
"It's a reversal" of the Rumsfeld-era policies and a "good move," said Mark M. Lowenthal, a former top manager for the director of central intelligence, the office that preceded the creation of the national spy chief's post. "It will eliminate a lot of friction" with the director of national intelligence.
Clapper, meeting with a small group of reporters yesterday, called his changes "a natural evolution."
At the meeting, Clapper flashed a countdown timer that read 605 days and 12 hours, the time left in the Bush administration. He has distributed the timers to his senior staff to inspire a sense of urgency, he said, adding, "It's time to get some things done."
The clock reflects the time he has to take advantage of "the unusual and unprecedented alignment of leadership" across the intelligence agencies, he said, calling it "a very unusual circumstance, a unique one that may never be repeated again."
CIA Director Gen. Michael V. Hayden, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, McConnell and Clapper have all taken their posts in the past year. Career intelligence professionals who have worked together on and off for decades, they have advocated for a more harmonious relationship between the Defense Department and intelligence agencies.
Former senior CIA official John C. Gannon called the group "a dream team," adding that they have "a real opportunity to clean up some of the messes and move forward in a much more constructive direction."
Together, Clapper said, they will "lay a foundation for the next administration" on which to build a post-9/11 intelligence system.
At a "town hall meeting" with intelligence personnel this month, Clapper said that with his limited time he must "focus on a few critical, high-impact issues," according to a briefing document from the meeting obtained by The Sun.
Clapper accomplished one of his top priorities when McConnell announced May 24 that Clapper will report to him, as well as to Gates.
"This is an elegant solution to clearing up a lot of the ambiguity that has cropped up" between the responsibilities of the Pentagon's spy programs and other intelligence agencies, Clapper said yesterday.
Rumsfeld aggressively fought this type of proposal - and won - when the intelligence director post was created in 2004. He and Cambone used their autonomy to expand the Pentagon's spying efforts without consulting other agencies, according to current and former intelligence officers.
Clapper, then the director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the third-largest U.S. intelligence organization, had clashed with Rumsfeld. He advocated for a director of national intelligence with more control over national defense spy agencies. Rumsfeld then forced Clapper from his post, as The Sun previously reported.
In an ironic turn, when Gates took over at the Pentagon, he asked Clapper to head the intelligence office Rumsfeld established. Clapper is now in a position to reshape his current post to bolster the intelligence director.
"Cambone was much more concerned about establishing an individual presence for defense intelligence," Lowenthal said.
Clapper is also cross-pollinating with McConnell's staff, asking one of McConnell's aides to oversee the Pentagon's intelligence strategy and policy.
At his town hall meeting, Clapper set out his "immediate priorities" that would blend his operation with McConnell's and redefine the role of the Pentagon intelligence office.
One is to integrate defense human spying with the efforts of the National Clandestine Service, an initiative begun in fall 2005 to combine the human spy capabilities of the CIA with those at the other intelligence agencies. But, former intelligence and Pentagon officials said, the effort has not jelled, in part because the Pentagon did not want to play along.
Still, the former Pentagon official warned, "from the perspective of getting better collaboration and coordination, it sounds real nice," the former official said. "Whether the bureaucracy will agree with that when he's seen as a lame duck is a whole different issue." He spoke on condition of anonymity because he advises the Pentagon on intelligence matters.
Clapper is also assessing the role and organization of the Pentagon's Counterintelligence Field Activity, known as CIFA, according to briefing documents from the town hall meeting.
CIFA has been beset by allegations of corruption and other problems. It came under fire after the revelation that the office had been collecting names of anti-war protesters in its Talon database.
In his first two weeks at Defense, Clapper recommended to Gates that the Talon program be terminated. Gates has yet to make a final determination.
Asked if there are any other recommendations, Clapper said, "None that I can talk about."