U.S. intelligence chief draws blank on London terror plot

Brett Michael Dykes
December 22, 2010

Surely with so many terror plots developing around the world in recent days, it's understandable that someone might miss one, right? Well, for ordinary Americans, sure -- but you're held to a different standard if you're the head of U.S. intelligence.

That's why U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is having a very bad day Wednesday. Clapper appeared to draw a blank when ABC's Diane Sawyer asked him about the arrests hours earlier of 12 men accused of plotting an al-Qaida-type attack in London.

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"First of all, London. How serious is it? Any implication that it was coming here?" Sawyer asked at the start of an interview that also included chief counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Clapper, puzzled by Sawyer's question, responded, "London?" and turned to Brennan for help responding to Sawyer's questions about the arrests that had occurred several hours before the interview took place.

Later in the interview, Sawyer told Clapper that she was "a little surprised you didn't know about London." "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't," Clapper replied.

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You can watch video of the interview below, courtesy of ABC News; the initial exchange with Sawyer occurs at the 3:56 mark:

Clapper's office initially suggested that he had merely been confused by Sawyer's "ambiguous" question

Later, though, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence acknowledged in a statement to the press: "Director Clapper had not yet been briefed on the arrests in the United Kingdom at the time of this interview taping."

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She added that Clapper had been "working throughout the day on important intelligence matters, including monitoring military and political developments on the Korean Peninsula, providing answers to questions concerning the ratification of the START nuclear treaty, and other classified issues. He wasn't immediately briefed on London because it didn't appear to have a homeland nexus and there was no immediate action by the DNI required. Nevertheless, he should have been briefed on the arrests, and steps have been taken to ensure that he is in the future. The intelligence community as a whole was fully aware of this development and tracking it closely."

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(Photo of Clapper: AP/Manuel Balce Cenata)