The White House counterterrorism adviser acknowledged Wednesday that the reason the nation's top intelligence official was stumped on an interview question two days ago about a major set of terror arrests in Great Britain was because his staff hadn't told him about it.
Adviser John Brennan said that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper should have been kept abreast of the situation and that "steps" are being taken to ensure he's not kept in the dark on such significant developments in the future. But Brennan defended Clapper, calling him the "consummate DNI."
Brennan explained that on the day of the interview in which Clapper stumbled, he was too busy handling tension on the Korean peninsula and congressional negotiations over a nuclear treaty with Russia to pick up on widespread reporting about the arrest of 12 men allegedly involved in an Al Qaeda-inspired plot to attack targets in Britain.
"There was breathless attention by the media about these arrests and it was constantly on the news networks," Brennan told reporters. "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 the president expects him to focus on."
He said there was "no action" required of Clapper regarding the arrests in Britain. Still, he twice said Clapper should have been briefed and assured that if such a development happens again, "I'm sure that he is going to be au courant."
Clapper's slip occurred during an ABC News interview taped Monday and broadcast Tuesday. He was being interviewed alongside Brennan and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Diane Sawyer asked Clapper directly about the takedown in Britain that day during the course of a discussion about what the United States is doing to prevent another attempted terror attack.
"First of all, London. How serious is it? Any implication that it was coming here?" Sawyer asked.
Clapper was silent for several seconds, then quietly turned his head and said, "London?"
Brennan stepped in to explain that the British had informed U.S. officials about the plot that morning.
"Oh," Clapper said.
Napolitano said that as far as she knew the arrests are unrelated to any threats against the U.S.
Later in the segment, Sawyer told Clapper she was "a little surprised" he didn't know about the London plot.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't," Clapper said.
The raid in Britain was one of the largest the country's anti-terror forces have conducted in recent history. The sweep picked up suspects believed to have ties to Pakistan and Bangladesh. It came shortly after a suicide attack in Sweden.
Brennan said Wednesday that U.S. officials continue to be in contact with British officials about the arrests.
A statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence mirrored Brennan's explanation, saying Clapper had not been briefed and was busy dealing with other matters.
"Director Clapper had not yet been briefed on the arrests in the United Kingdom at the time of this interview taping," the statement said. "The DNI was 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."
The statement said he wasn't "immediately briefed" on the London case because it did not appear to have a "homeland nexus," therefore requiring no "immediate action" from him.
"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," the statement said.
Clapper was confirmed to the DNI post in August after Dennis Blair left the position. He is responsible for overseeing 16 intelligence agencies.