WASHINGTON — The White House mounted a firm defense of America’s top spy on Wednesday after he admitted on television he did not know about a purported terrorism plot foiled by Britain.
US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was asked about the alleged plot, with ABC News’s Diane Sawyer posing the questions: “First of all, London. How serious is it? Any implication that it was coming here?”
After a long pause, Clapper replied, “London?” and admitted he had not heard about the arrests of 12 men accused of planning an Al-Qaeda-inspired attack.
President Barack Obama’s top counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan said Clapper was the “consummate” DNI and had been focused on a sheaf of classified issues, including current tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Brennan added, however, that Clapper should have been briefed by his staff on the arrests and said steps had been taken to make sure it would not happen again.
“I’m glad that Jim Clapper is not sitting in front of the TV 24 hours a day and monitoring what’s coming out of the media,” Brennan told reporters.
“What he is doing is focusing on those intelligence issues that the president expects him to focus on and to make sure that we don’t have conflict in different parts of the world. He continues to focus on those.”
After his appearance, Clapper’s office issued a statement saying that the DNI’s knowledge of “threat streams in Europe is profound and multi-dimensional, and any suggestion otherwise is inaccurate.”
Clapper is tasked with giving Obama daily briefings on timely intelligence assessments.
Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron discussed the arrests by telephone on Tuesday.
The detention of the 12 men, aged between 17 and 28, came amid heightened tensions following last week’s Stockholm suicide bombing, which was carried out by a man who lived and was allegedly radicalized in Britain.