Defense Secretary Gates Backs Obama’s Choice for U.S. Intelligence Chief, But Senators in Both Parties Voice Concerns

June 7, 2010 - 9:24 AM
Pending Senate approval, Clapper would succeed retired Adm. Dennis Blair, who resigned last month after clashing with the White House and other intelligence officials during his 16 months in the position.
James Clapper

President Barack Obama introduces James Clapper as his choice for Director of National Intelligence (DNI) in the White House Rose Garden on Saturday, June 5, 2010. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Baku, Azerbaijan (AP) - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday that his Pentagon intelligence chief, in line to oversee all American spy agencies, has the ability to forge consensus among that sprawling network.
 
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper, nominated by President Barack Obama on Saturday to be national intelligence director, is "the consummate intelligence professional who has the respect of virtually everybody in the community," Gates told reporters traveling with him to Azerbaijan.
 
He described Clapper as having the proper temperament for "the kind of constructive, positive chemistry with the other leaders of the intelligence community."
 
Clapper was the only person Gates brought to the Defense Department after he was named defense secretary by President George W. Bush in 2006. Gates has known Clapper for 20 years and considers him a friend.
 
Pending Senate approval, Clapper would succeed retired Adm. Dennis Blair, who resigned last month after clashing with the White House and other intelligence officials during his 16 months in the position.
 
Although Obama is seeking a quick confirmation vote for Clapper, senators in both parties have questioned whether he should be in the post.
 
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, has said it would be better to have a civilian. The committee's top Republican, Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, has said he believes Clapper would be outmaneuvered because White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan and CIA Director Leon Panetta have more access to Obama.
 
Clapper, 69, is known for being blunt and willing to argue a point with lawmakers as well as administration officials. He has been confirmed for administration positions four times.
 
Gates said that complaints on Capitol Hill that Clapper hasn't always been forthcoming reflect a jurisdictional tug-o-war "about who gets briefed on what."
 
"Jim has a strong, long record of not only adherence to congressional oversight but support of it and enthusiastic cooperation," he said.
 
If confirmed, Clapper would be the fourth intelligence director since the position was created in 2004 as an answer to post-Sept. 11 criticism that the nation's intelligence agencies lacked an overall manager.
 
"What is really key for success in leading the intelligence community and for the DNI, in my view, is not only long experience and familiarity with the intelligence world, but the temperament to have the kind of constructive, positive chemistry with the other leaders of the intelligence community," Gates said. "And Gen. Clapper has that kind of chemistry, has had it all along."
 
The top choice to replace Clapper as undersecretary of defense for intelligence is Mike Vickers, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity conflict, a former senior U.S. official said. A senior administration source said Vickers has Obama's trust and backing but that Obama is leaving the choice to Gates. Both sources spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters.
 
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Associated Press writer Kimberly Dozier in Washington contributed to this report.