Pentagon official tapped as intelligence director
Obama expected to announce nomination today
WASHINGTON — President Obama intends to nominate the Pentagon’s top intelligence official, James Clapper, as the next national intelligence director despite some objections from Capitol Hill, a senior administration official said yesterday.
Obama will announce his nomination of Clapper, a retired Air Force general, in a Rose Garden ceremony this morning, said the official, who would speak only on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement.
Clapper would replace retired Admiral Dennis Blair, who resigned last month after frequent clashes with the White House.
But Clapper’s own combative sparring with lawmakers during past congressional hearings made him an unpopular choice with leading legislators on both sides of the aisle.
His critics question whether he will be able to counter Obama’s influential intelligence inner circle, which includes senior counterterrorism adviser John Brennan and CIA Director Leon Panetta.
Clapper, a retired Air Force three-star general, served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, which often works closely with the CIA.
In retirement, he became the first civilian director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, with a few years in private sector focusing on intelligence issues in between.
He’s known for blunt, sometimes salty speech, both in the Pentagon and behind closed doors at congressional hearings.
Retired General Mike McConnell, the second national intelligence director, had an intelligence background, and received fairly high marks in his role in George W. Bush’s administration.
But neither the first national intelligence director, John Negroponte, nor the most recent, Blair, had a long track record inside intelligence. As a result, both were criticized within the intelligence community for clashing with its insular culture.
Blair almost immediately fell into turf battles with Panetta. Blair objected to the CIA’s frequent use of covert action. And he butted heads with Panetta over who would had ultimate say in representing the national intelligence abroad, which had been handled by CIA station chiefs.
Blair wanted to have final say, but when Blair asked the White House to back him up, Brennan instead ruled in favor of Panetta.