As the nation’s top spymaster, former Director of National Intelligence Clapper vowed never to publish a memoir. Then he became enraged at Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign on behalf of Donald Trump, and he changed his mind about writing a book.
A few weeks before Trump’s surprise victory, Clapper and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a public warning about Russian dirty tricks meant to influence American voters. The author felt dismay when the vast majority of Americans apparently paid no attention to the warning. In the introduction, Clapper states unambiguously that following the election, “the CIA and the FBI continued to uncover evidence of preelection Russian propaganda, all intended to undermine [Hillary] Clinton and promote Trump, and the Intelligence Community continued to find indications of Russian cyber operations to interfere with the election.” The author then devotes the next 300 pages to the trajectory of his career, during which he served Republican and Democratic presidents from positions inside and outside the military. From 2010 to 2017, Clapper served as President Barack Obama’s nonpartisan senior intelligence adviser. As the author’s chronicle of his spy management unfolds chronologically, he offers insights into U.S. relations with North and South Korea, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Ukraine, and, of course, Russia, with an emphasis on Vladimir Putin’s determination to damage the U.S. in any way short of nuclear warfare. In the final quarter of the text, Clapper demonstrates his increasing exasperation with the current president’s lies, inability to deal rationally with other nations, utter lack of respect for worthy diplomats and politicians, and, especially, his cozying up to Putin.
The book will be judged, fairly or unfairly, by what comes next. If Clapper’s revelations undermine the support of an irrational Trump among voters, he will consider the book a success, however limited. However, if the book fails to contribute to the halting of Trump’s widespread corruption, Clapper makes clear he will do whatever he can from his retirement to protect what is left of American democracy.