Key lawmakers resist Obama's pick of Clapper as intelligence chief

Retired Air Force Gen. James Clapper has plenty of experience in the intelligence bureaucracy. But key lawmakers aren't happy with Obama's pick to be Director of National Intelligence.

By , Staff Writer

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    Nominee for Director of National Intelligence retired Gen. James Clapper speaks alongside President Barack Obama in the White House Rose Garden Saturday June 5.
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US intelligence capabilities are sprawled across many powerful agencies. And reflective of the kind of operations the clandestine services organize and carry out daily around the world, there’s a lot of close-in fighting – within and between the bureaucracies, just as there is on the ground in physically dangerous places.

James Clapper – the man President Obama has picked to be the next Director of National Intelligence (DNI) – takes over a post created five years ago in response to the intelligence failings leading up to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the aim was to coordinate often fractious agencies, including the CIA and the White House office of counterterrorism.

Mr. Clapper has plenty of relevant experience. Since retiring as a US Air Force general, he’s headed the Pentagon’s intelligence operations, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He knows where many of the skeletons lurk, and he’s not afraid to butt heads – as he did with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which cost him his job at the time.

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“He possesses a quality that I value in all my advisors: a willingness to tell leaders what we need to know, even if it’s not what we want to hear,” Obama said in announcing the appointment Saturday, urging the Senate to confirm Clapper “as swiftly as possible.”

But though he’s been confirmed several times for earlier jobs, behind closed doors Clapper has rankled some lawmakers too – and that’s likely to mean rigorous grilling.

Senator Kit Bond (R) of Missouri, Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, already has signaled his opposition.

“Unfortunately, with his pick in Jim Clapper as the next DNI, the President has ensured our terror-fighting strategy will continue to be run out of the Department of Justice and White House,” he said in a statement. “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.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California, who leads the Senate committee, has indicated she’d rather have a civilian in the job – somebody like CIA Director Leon Panetta.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra, (R) of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, isn’t happy with the Clapper appointment either.

"Mr. Clapper has blocked my communications with elements of the intelligence community, and he has been evasive and slow to respond to questions and letters from members of the committee,” he said in a statement. “Secondly, Mr. Clapper does not have the clout or independence to be the voice that provides an alternative to the Obama administration’s prosecute after-the-fact approach to terror.”

“We need a DNI who will ensure that the intelligence community is heard as prominently as the Justice Department, Homeland Security, the Pentagon and even the president's national security staff, which is trying to micro-manage America's intelligence agencies from the White House,” Hoekstra said.

If confirmed by the Senate, Clapper would be the fourth director in five years. He would replace retired US Navy Admiral Dennis Blair, who had clashed with other senior intelligence officials, including White House terrorism adviser John Brennan, and whose agency was blamed for the intelligence failings behind the recent terrorist incidents, including the Times Square and Christmas Day bombing attempts.

Related:

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Homegrown terrorism a growing concern for US intelligence

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