Nation’s Intelligence Chief Unaware of Significant U.K. Terror Plot; Focused on Other Things, White House Says

By Susan Jones | December 22, 2010 | 11:00 AM EST

James Clapper is President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence. (AP File Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

( - President Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan, speaking to reporters in the White House briefing room on Wednesday, defended James Clapper, the nation’s intelligence chief, for not knowing about the arrests of 12 suspected terrorists in London on Monday.

Clapper, in an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer hours after the arrests took place, was unable to answer her question about the situation, which the Associated Press described as the largest counterterrorism raid in nearly two years.

The arrests of the 12 men, ranging in age from 17 to 28, drew major media coverage on Monday, hours before Sawyer interviewed Clapper and Brennan.

“First of all, London," Sawyer said to Clapper in Monday’s interview. "How serious is it? Any implication that it was coming here?"

When Clapper didn’t have anything to say, Brennan jumped in: “You mean the arrests of the 12 individuals by the British early this morning,” Brennan responded to Sawyer. “This is something that the British told us about early this morning when it was taking place.”

Sawyer later told Clapper she was surprised he didn’t know about the events in London.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't," Clapper responded.

At first, Clapper’s office said Sawyer’s question about the British raid was “ambiguous,” ABC News reported. But on Wednesday, White House counter-terrorism adviser Brennan told reporters that Clapper’s staff had not briefed him on the events in London.

Clapper, Brennan explained, was “engaged in a variety of classified matters.”

“Should he have been briefed by his staff on those arrests? Yes,” Brennan said. “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. He continues to focus on those.

“And his not being briefed yesterday afternoon – this is something that they’ve acknowledged that he should have been briefed on, and they’ve taken steps to correct that now, and if it happens again, I’m sure he’s going to be au courant as far as the takedown overseas.”

Brennan said there was nothing the director of national intelligence was required to do about the raids in London, and consequently he was giving his full attention where DNI action was required.

“As of that time, there was nothing that the DNI needed to do, or be engaged in, that would have required him to set aside other pressing intelligence matters to get briefed on things that were being put out by the press,” Brennan said.