16 IS welcomes former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper

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  • 655th ISR Wing Public Affairs

The 16th Intelligence Squadron (IS), 655th Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group, hosted former Director of National Intelligence Lt. Gen. (Ret.) James Clapper, United States Air Force, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland during a unit training assembly Feb. 4, 2023.

Airmen from both the 16 IS and the 512 IS participated. The 16 IS is the Air Force Reserve’s lone ground signals intelligence squadron, while the 512 IS is one of only two cyber intelligence squadrons in the Air Force Reserve.

Clapper participated in a fireside-themed discussion with Lt. Col. Philip Caruso, 16 IS director of operations, as the inaugural event of the 16 IS’ Leadership Development Speaker Series. Following a discussion on leadership, the evolution of the U.S. Intelligence Community, signals and cyber intelligence, and insights from Clapper’s distinguished career, 16 IS and 512 IS airmen had the opportunity to ask questions of their former DNI and learn his perspective on a wide range of topics.

“We’re excited to host this event for our intelligence professionals,” said Lt. Col. John Durkee, 16 IS commander. “The nature of our mission is that we spend the majority of our time in Signals Intelligence production (translation and analysis), so it is important that our Airmen get exposure to our national decision-makers and learn first-hand the impact and significance of their work.”

Caruso added, “As Airmen, we are all leaders in our units, our intelligence disciplines, our Air Force, and ultimately our society. We never stop learning about and improving our leadership. Having the opportunity to learn the lessons of someone as experienced and distinguished as Lt. Gen. Clapper is a very unique opportunity for which members of the 16 IS and 512 IS are deeply grateful.”

Both squadrons are comprised of various intelligence specialties, including intelligence officers. During the event, Clapper recounted how he himself came to be a U.S. Air Force signals intelligence officer in the 1960s. As the son of a U.S. Army signals intelligence officer, he listened to local police radio traffic, and as a young child, was able to use the information he gleaned to build a robust picture of the police department’s operations, footprint, and procedures. This demonstrated a natural analytical ability and a predisposition to his eventual career.

As a young adult, and after a brief stint as a U.S. Marine Corps reservist, Clapper joined Air Force R.O.T.C. and went on to a successful 32-year career as an active duty Air Force intelligence officer, retiring as the director of the defense intelligence agency in 1995.

As a civilian, Clapper subsequently served as director of what is now the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, and the fourth Senate-confirmed Director of National Intelligence from 2010 to 2017.

Clapper shared numerous leadership lessons from his fifty-year career in intelligence.

“Good leaders remove obstacles that constrain their subordinates from maximum effectiveness,” Clapper said. “Start with the assumption that people are competent and want to do the right thing. If they prove you wrong, you can address that. But while negative leadership may get the job done, that is all you will get. People will not take risks or go above and beyond for you as a leader. And we need that kind of innovation and motivation in the Intelligence Community.”

Clapper also highlighted that the Intelligence Community is duty-bound to speak truth to power and be consistently objective and factual in its reporting. “That is our job and it is what the American people expect of us,” he said.

16 IS and 512 IS airmen engaged with Clapper on a range of topics, including diversity. “Diversity is our strength,” Clapper said. “For our Intelligence Community to be effective, it must look not only like our country, but the world, where it is focused every day.”

Clapper’s perspective left an impact on the Airmen in attendance. Tech. Sgt. Kevin Caldwell, 16 IS, said , “Lt. Gen. Clapper came across as a leader who truly cares about people and intelligence. It was refreshing to hear a senior leader speak with conviction on how vital diversity is in accomplishing the mission.”

After the event, airmen had the opportunity to join Clapper for a small group coffee chat. Among the participants were 16 IS Reservists Capt. Jake Cottle and Senior Airman Dennis Gordionok.

“As a leader, I want to leave a legacy of success that is not personality dependent. Lt. Gen. Clapper has given me a new perspective on team dynamics,” Cottle said.

Gordionok added, “Lt. Gen. Clapper dedicated his entire life to serving our great country. He is perspicacious, wise, compassionate, and insightful about the Intelligence Community. I am honored and very delighted that I was granted this very rare opportunity to meet him.”

After the event, Clapper welcomed photos with dozens of airmen and passed on his appreciation for the dedication of the 16 IS and 512 IS airmen in their work for the Intelligence Community. “What you are doing is very important. I just want to say, as an American, thank you.”