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The Baltimore Sun January 06, 2006

Imagery intelligence agency chief being forced from post

Angered by testimony, Rumsfeld declined to extend contract, ex-official says

By Siobhan Gorman

WASHINGTON -- After clashing with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the director of the government's third largest intelligence agency will be leaving his position in June, according to current and former government officials.

For the past four years, James R. Clapper Jr. has headed the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which collects intelligence mainly from high-powered satellite photos and produces detailed maps for other government agencies.

Clapper, 64, joined the NGA in September 2001. While Clapper wanted to stay on, Rumsfeld made the decision not to extend Clapper's contract, according to a former senior government official familiar with the matter.

The former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Rumsfeld acted out of anger over Clapper's testimony to Congress in 2004. The NGA director testified that it would not harm his agency's work if the NGA was removed from the full control of the Pentagon.

During deliberations over the creation of the new spymaster's office, the Pentagon's allies in Congress fought the proposal for a new office to oversee the nation's intelligence community, arguing that it would stand in the way of getting timely information to soldiers on the ground.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence was eventually approved and began operations last year. It manages all 15 U.S. intelligence agencies, more than 80 percent of whose funding comes through the Pentagon.

Under the law that created the new spymaster's office, the new director and the defense secretary shared control over the NGA and other intelligence agencies, including the National Security Agency.

A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on Rumsfeld's decision.

Clapper "served nearly five years," said the spokesman, speaking on the condition that he not be named. "He serves at the pleasure and behest of the secretary of defense."

Stephen Honda, a spokesman for the NGA, said Clapper "recognized that he served at the pleasure of the administration, and it was possible his assignment might end early or be extended - all depending on the situation at the time."

Honda said Clapper is focusing on the next few months. "The decision has now been made," he said. "It's not something General Clapper thinks or worries about."

Based in Bethesda, the agency has an annual budget estimated at $2 billion and more than 8,000 employees, according to intelligence specialist John Pike of Globalsecurity.org. The exact numbers are classified.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, the NGA has been working to prove its relevance at a time when the United States' enemies don't use large weapons systems picked up in satellite photos, and when high-quality ground photos are available on Web sites such as Google Earth.

Former colleagues credit Clapper with helping the NGA counter today's threats by expanding the notion of imagery intelligence to include, for example, ground reports from soldiers.

Retired Lt. Gen. Patrick Hughes, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said Clapper rescued a "foundering agency" and "completely turned it around." He said Clapper's departure "would be our loss; the country's loss."

Clapper led the drive to change the agency's name in 2003 from the National Imagery and Mapping Agency to its current one, to clarify its intelligence role and to adopt a three-letter acronym favored by intelligence agencies.

Clapper, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has cultivated a reputation for being strong-willed and independent.

"He's one of those individuals that we really need, especially in these difficult times," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat who is on the House Intelligence Committee. "I have concern about changing leadership [at the NGA] in a difficult time for our country."

Ruppersberger praised Clapper for standing up for creation of the new national intelligence office. "He's not a yes-person," he said.

In summer 2004, Clapper and Michael V. Hayden, then the head of the NSA, told Congress that their agencies would not be harmed if put under the new director's control. Hayden is now the second in command to Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte.

Shortly after Clapper and Hayden testified, Rumsfeld called them to the Pentagon for lunch, where he told them they were out of line because their agencies provide combat support and should be solely under the Pentagon's control, the former government official said.

Ruppersberger said Clapper's departure is of acute concern because the country cannot afford to "lose any more [intelligence] people right now."

Several intelligence agencies have directors who took office in recent months, and the CIA has lost a number of senior leaders recently. A commission that studied the NGA, then known as NIMA, issued a 2000 report finding that the traditional two- to three-year tenure of directors was hurting the agency's ability to adapt to the post-Cold War era.

Clapper will leave on June 13. His replacement has not been officially named, but the leading contender is said to be a three-star general. The successor will inherit a controversial satellite program known as Future Imagery Architecture, which Negroponte is trying to overhaul.

A retired lieutenant general, Clapper spent more than three decades in the Air Force holding various intelligence posts, including director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the fourth largest intelligence agency.

After retiring from the military in 1995, he participated in a government investigation of the Khobar Towers bombing in June 1996 and served on the NSA Advisory Board.

Honda noted Clapper's tenure as "the longest serving director" of the imagery agency.

In a recent e-mail to the NGA work force announcing his departure, Clapper said, "I am honored to continue as director of this superb agency and its magnificent people."


Copyright 2006, The Baltimore Sun