After initially blaming Diane Sawyer and an "ambiguous" question for National Intelligence Director James Clapper's inability to answer a question on recent UK terror arrests, the White House has now admitted that Clapper was not briefed on the issue prior to the interview.
The arrests had taken place the morning of the interview, and had been popular news on all the major networks. Still, Clapper had no idea about them when Sawyer asked him about their implications for the U.S.
“Director Clapper had not yet been briefed on the arrests in the United Kingdom at the time of this interview taping,” said ODNI spokeswoman Jamie Smith in a statement.
She explained 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.”
ABC's Jake Tapper broached the issue during a White House press briefing today, Smith's position was repeated by White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, who was present during the Sawyer interview.
"[Clapper] was working on developments in the Korean Peninsula, in terms of political/military developments," Brennan said. "He was focused on trying to provide support to the Congress as far as the START treaty deliberations were concerned. He was engaged in a variety of classified matters."
Brennan then tried to spin the gaffe into a positive, by suggesting that it was a good thing Clapper wasn't watching the news:
Should he have been briefed by his staff on those arrests? Yes. And I know there was breathless attention by the media about these arrests, and it was constantly on the news networks. 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. 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.