|Published:||May 21, 2010 11:10 AM EDT|
|Updated:||May 21, 2010 11:09 AM EDT|
WASHINGTON (AP) - For months, National Intelligence Director
Dennis Blair has been a dead man walking - and he knew it. So
constant and vicious were the leaks from the White House and
Congress of his imminent departure that he opened a recent speech
on intelligence reform with a joke that his replacement would be
Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb.
The crowd's laughter was just a little uncomfortable, as Blair
himself spotlighted the elephant in the room by suggesting that
even the just-traded NFL star was being mentioned to fill the job.
Everyone seemed to know this just wasn't working.
His 16-month tenure had been studded with public intelligence
failures, turf wars and that uniquely inside-the-Beltway ritual
humiliation via leaks to the press.
Blair's official decision to step down came Thursday after an
Oval office meeting with President Barack Obama, according to two
senior congressional staffers. They said it became clear by the end
of the meeting that Blair had "lost the confidence of the
In a message to his work force, Blair said his last day would be
"It is with deep regret that I informed the president today
that I will step down as director of national intelligence," Blair
Obama released a brief statement Thursday night that did not
acknowledge Blair's impending resignation.
"During his time as DNI, our intelligence community has
performed admirably and effectively at a time of great challenges
to our security, and I have valued his sense of purpose and
patriotism," the president said. "He and I both share a deep
admiration for the men and women of our intelligence community, who
are performing extraordinary and indispensable service to our
Blair, a retired Navy admiral, is the third director of national
intelligence, a position created in response to the failure to
prevent the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
His departure highlights the continuing disarray and competition
among the disparate elements of the intelligence community - the
very same issues the 9/11 Commission identified and that the
national intelligence director was supposed to make a thing of the
Two other government officials said several candidates already
had been interviewed for the DNI job, which is to oversee the
nation's 16 intelligence agencies.
Names mentioned as possible candidates include current top White
House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan and James R. Clapper,
the defense undersecretary for intelligence.
All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the
sensitivity of the issue.
Blair's term in office was marred by turf battles with CIA
Director Leon Panetta and Blair's own controversial public comments
after the failed Christmas Day jetliner bombing attempt.
The two congressional officials said Blair had been on a losing
streak since he squared off with Panetta last May over Blair's
effort to choose a personal representative at U.S. embassies to be
his eyes and ears abroad, instead of relying on CIA station chiefs,
as had been the practice.
Blair issued a directive declaring his intention to select his
own representatives overseas. Panetta followed up shortly
thereafter with a note telling agency employees that station chiefs
were still in charge - a move that some construed as insubordinate
and a blow to Blair's authority.
The White House did nothing to back Blair over Panetta, which
sent a message to the rest of the intelligence community that Blair
could be ignored, according to one senior congressional staffer.
Worse, the skirmish ended up costing Blair the support of Brennan,
who resented being forced to mediate, according to another staffer
familiar with the issue.
In the failed Christmas Day attack, the Senate Intelligence
Committee found that the National Counterterrorism Center was in a
position to connect intelligence that could have prevented it. As
director of national intelligence, Blair oversaw the center.
One senior Senate staffer said it was apparent Blair had been
kept on the periphery of the FBI's investigation into the Nigerian
suspect in the attempted plane bombing, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
Blair's later testimony before Congress did not endear him to
the White House, the officials said, when he acknowledged that an
elite interrogation team known as the High-Value Interrogation
Group had not been deployed to question Abdulmutallab. Blair may
have further damaged himself by admitting that he had not been
consulted on whether the HIG unit should have been used.
The HIG team was deployed after the Times Square bombing attempt
this month, administration officials said this week.
Blair also told Congress that Abdulmutallab continued to provide
helpful information to investigators at a time when authorities had
hoped to keep the bomber's cooperation secret. With that
information divulged, FBI Director Robert Mueller confirmed at the
same hearing that Abdulmutallab was cooperating.
Blair was the first Obama administration official to describe
the deadly shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, last fall as an
act of homegrown extremism. The administration had previously been
reluctant to call the suspect, an Army psychiatrist, a homegrown
terrorist or extremist.
By law, the principal deputy director of national intelligence,
David Gompert, becomes the acting director until the Senate
confirms the president's nominee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.,
Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence
Committee, called Blair a consummate public servant.
"I had high hopes for his willingness to work with Congress on
a bipartisan basis to ensure that America's intelligence
professional had the tools, resources and authorities they need to
help protect our homeland," Hoekstra said Thursday.
Some Republican lawmakers have criticized the Obama
administration for not keeping them in the loop on key intelligence
matters, often singling out Brennan as being too secretive.