National Security

National Intelligence Director Blair Resigning

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President Obama is replacing the nation's top intelligence official. Admiral Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, announced Thursday he is resigning. In a statement, Obama praised Blair's "record of service" but it seems clear that Obama wanted a change in his intelligence leadership.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Lynn Neary.


And Im Renee Montagne.

President Obama is replacing the nation's top intelligence official. Admiral Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, announced last night that he's resigning. In a White House statement, Mr. Obama praised Blair's record of service to the United States, but it seems clear that the president wanted a change.

Joining us now is NPR's Tom Gjelten. Good morning.

TOM GJELTEN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What is behind this move?

GJELTEN: Well, effectively, Blair was fired. President Obama called Blair yesterday afternoon, asked him to resign. And that came after a meeting in the White House yesterday afternoon. Blair and the president in fact have discussed him leaving on various occasions.

In his own statement, Blair said he was leaving with deep regret. Officials close to him tell me, Renee, that it was his intention to stay as long as President Obama wanted him, and that the president's decision to replace him came as a surprise.

But the truth is there have been rumors of Blair leaving for a long time. He has not had an easy time as DNI, as director of national intelligence, really from the very beginning. Long history of turf battles with the Pentagon, with the CIA, even with the White House itself over control of the intelligence community. And then tensions with the White House really escalated in the aftermath of that attempt to bomb the airliner on Christmas Day. Disagreements over how that was handled.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, tell us more a little bit about that.

GJELTEN: Well, the Senate Intelligence Committee this week put out a report saying that this was a connect-the-dots failure. And if there's anybody in the U.S. government who is supposed to connect the dots on intelligence, it's the DNI, so he really had to take the sword on that one.

He is being held accountable for that failure, rightly or wrongly. As one intelligence official told me yesterday, you have to admit there is a lot of broken glass behind him. And it was becoming clear, Renee, that the White House had just lost confidence in him. I mean General James Jones, the president's national security advisor, chose to take CIA director Leon Panetta with him last weekend to Pakistan, not Admiral Blair.

MONTAGNE: And Tom, the director of national intelligence is a relatively new position. It's part of the post-9/11 reforms. Does this resignation speak to problems with that position or even the future of that position?

GJELTEN: No question about it, Renee. Now, that is enshrined in law so it would take legislative changes to change it. But there is a growing feeling that that reform did not work out. It's now more up in the air than ever. The lines of responsibility in the intelligence world are not clear, who has charge of what.

Dennis Blair was kind of a take charge guy. You know, he used to be in charge of U.S. military forces in the Pacific, had lots of command experience. He was unhappy with the way the White House, in his view, was sort of micromanaging intelligence affairs. So yeah, this - it really does raise question about the future of that position.

MONTAGNE: And are there, at this moment in time, as of this morning, any candidates, any names out there to replace him?

GJELTEN: A U.S. official tells us that interviews have already begun. I understand there is a short list of candidates to replace him. A leading candidate right now is James Clapper. He's the undersecretary of defense, very close to the Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Lots of Republican friends, so we can assume there wouldnt much opposition to him.

But you know, Renee, any candidate who comes into that position, I can tell you, will want to have their responsibilities, their authority clearly clarified. That has not happened yet.

MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much.

GJELTEN: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Tom Gjelten.

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