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Obama to name intelligence director

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June 5, 2010

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama intends to nominate the Pentagon’s top intelligence official, James Clapper, as the next director of national intelligence despite some objections from Capitol Hill, a senior administration official said Friday.

Obama will announce his nomination of the retired Air Force general in a Rose Garden ceremony this morning, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity before the announcement.

Clapper would replace retired Adm. 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 was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, an organization that 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 the private sector focusing on intelligence issues in between.

He’s known for blunt, sometimes salty speech, in the Pentagon and behind closed doors at congressional hearings.

Retired Gen. Mike McConnell, the second DNI, had an intelligence background and got fairly high marks in his role as President George W. Bush’s chief intelligence adviser.

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 in the intelligence community for clashing with its culture.

Clapper has long been a proponent for a strong DNI, and it cost him his job when he worked for then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, according to one former senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.

In summer 2004, as Congress put the finishing touches on legislation creating the DNI, military and intelligence officials sat down to discuss how the new boss would fit into the command structures.

Clapper, then the top official at the nation’s spy satellite agency, and Michael Hayden, head of the National Security Agency, said the Pentagon likely would have to give up some authority. But Rumsfeld objected, the official said. Clapper fell out of favor with Rumsfeld and was replaced, the official said.

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