Gen. James Clapper, former director of national intelligence under President Barack Obama, called Russia the United States’ greatest existential threat and discussed the unlikelihood of North Korean denuclearization Monday night at Penn State’s Lewis Katz Law Building.
Speaking to more than 250 people, the intelligence expert was the first guest speaker for the law school’s new Center for Security Research and Education, created in October as a collaboration of the university’s strengths in national, homeland and global security.
Penn State President Eric Barron underscored the importance of studying security-related issues before introducing Clapper.
“Security has become an increasingly complex and pressing issue at Penn State and the world at large, and that’s an understatement if there ever was one,” Barron said.
Before talking in-depth about his main points, Clapper said it was “liberating” to have the opportunity to speak so freely on topics of national intelligence, compared to some of his previous experiences.
“Testifying on intelligence matters is right up there with a root canal,” he said.
Amid investigation into Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election, Clapper called Russia America’s “No. 1 adversary” and its “greatest existential threat in the short term.”
“They are not our friends, and I say this with my own personal long experience dealing with the Russians,” Clapper said.
Clapper said Russia’s goal was “to sow discord, discontent and doubt in our system.”
“I think they achieved it way beyond our wildest expectations,” he said.
Regarding the potential threat of a nuclear-weaponized North Korea, Clapper said the North Koreans are not going to denuclearize.
“That train left the station a long time ago,” he said.
Instead, Clapper supports establishing an “interest section” in Pyongyang and giving North Korea its own diplomatic presence in Washington, D.C.
This, according to Clapper, would open up communication between the two nations, and serve as a conduit of information that could have helped prevent tragedies like the death of American college student Otto Warmbier this June.
There could have been a better prospect for Warmbier “had we had someone there bugging the North Koreans day in and day out about the status of the regrettable situation,” Clapper said.
Concerning President Donald Trump’s rhetoric toward North Korea, Clapper said it should be toned down, because while Trump has wise advisers to check his powers, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “has a bunch of sycophants.”
Clapper was the fourth United States director of intelligence from 2010 to January, when he served as the principal intelligence adviser to Obama. He has 34 years of experience in the U.S. armed forces and has held a number of intelligence-related positions.
Maddie Biertempfel is a Penn State journalism student.