James Clapper: reflections on fifty years in US intelligence

James Clapper
17 October 2018

Former United States Director of National Intelligence and Vice Chancellor’s Distinguished Professor James Clapper recently visited The Australian National University (ANU) to launch his new book, Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence.

At the launch, Mr Clapper spoke about the highs and lows of his distinguished career in intelligence.

“The high point of my time at DNI (United States Office of the Director of National Intelligence) was the take-down of Osama bin Laden on 2 May 2011,” he said.

"I will never forget walking out of the West Wing…to be greeted by the sounds of a crowd across the street in Lafayette Park chanting ‘USA, USA, USA!’”

“Boy it really hit me. It was closure for the country, closure for the intelligence community and closure for me personally.”

The Edward Snowden affair represented a low point in Mr Clapper’s career, who spoke about the impact it had on the United States’ foreign intelligence capabilities.

“If you’re paying taxes, you’re going to be paying for the recovery from the damage that Edward Snowden has done for some years to come,” he said.

Although Mr Clapper spoke in detail about his time in both the George W Bush and Obama administrations, he also spoke candidly about how his childhood influenced his career.

"When I first knew I wanted to be an intelligence officer I was 12 years old," said Mr Clapper.

When staying at his grandparents’ house, he discovered that jamming the selector dial in a certain position gave him access to the Philadelphia police department dispatcher.

"So I guess I hacked my grandparents’ TV set,” Mr Clapper joked.

“The next day, I scrounged a map of the city of Philadelphia from my grandfather and that following evening I started listening again. And I started plotting where the police cars where, where the police dispatcher dispatched cruisers to respond to the calls they got.”

“So about three weeks later, my parents come back to retrieve us and when my Dad says, ‘so what have you been doing?’ I whip out my map and I gave my Dad about a 20-25 minute dissertation about the organisation and operation of the Philadelphia police force.”

Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence is available to order online.

By CAP Student Correspondent Georgie Juszczyk.


Listen to the latest episode of the National Security Podcast, featuring James Clapper speaking about the changing nature of intelligence collection, trust in government, Donald Trump, and conspiracy theories. Produced by Policy Forum with support from ANU National Security College.


Updated:  24 April, 2017/Responsible Officer:  Dean, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team