Obama to name Pentagon insider as new intel head

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President Barack Obama will name defense veteran James Clapper as his new director of national intelligence, an administration official said on Friday.

Clapper, undersecretary of defense for intelligence and a retired general, would replace Dennis Blair, who stepped down from the job last month in the first major shake-up of Obama's national security team.

The announcement will be made at the White House on Saturday, the administration official said. The post requires Senate confirmation.

Obama had been expected to try quickly to fill the job of DNI, who oversees the country's numerous intelligence agencies and is the president's principal adviser for intelligence matters related to national security.

Blair, who left after just 16 months in the job, was ousted amid mounting domestic security concerns following a failed car bomb attempt in New York's Times Square on May 1 and the botched attempt to blow up a US airliner on Christmas Day.

The position was created by President George W. Bush in 2004 in a shake-up of the intelligence bureaucracy to fill shortcomings in inter-agency collaboration exposed by the September 11 attacks.

Clapper, a former Air Force general who retired in 1995 after a 32-year career, was brought into the Pentagon by Defense Secretary Robert Gates during the Bush administration and remained with Gates after Obama took office in January 2009.

After quickly emerging as Obama's front-runner for the job, Clapper encountered resistance from some senior Democratic and Republican lawmakers. They were worried he would be too close to the Defense Department and wanted a civilian.

But analysts said his long experience made him a very well- qualified choice for the challenging position.

"I believe Jim Clapper is a superb choice to be the next Director of National Intelligence," said John Hamre, former deputy defense secretary and now president of the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

"No one knows the intelligence community better than Jim Clapper. I have witnessed his advocacy for reform for over a dozen years. He is the right man at the right time," Hamre said.

Republican Senator Kit Bond, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, voiced skepticism, saying that with Clapper's selection, "the President has ensured our terror-fighting strategy will continue to be run out of the Department of Justice and White House.

"While Jim has served our nation well, he lacks the necessary clout with the President, has proven to be less than forthcoming with Congress, and has recently blocked our efforts to empower the DNI, which is why at this time I'm not inclined to support him," Bond said in a statement.

Clapper faces a tough task. Critics say part of the problem Blair encountered during his tenure was that the DNI lacks sufficient clout to impose the office's authority on the rest of the intelligence community, particularly the CIA, which produces the bulk of the country's classified intelligence.

Defense and intelligence officials have said Blair had a difficult relationship with CIA Director Leon Panetta over the boundaries of the DNI's authority.

Critics say they hope Obama will reinforce the power of the DNI's office to improve performance.

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