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

president."

In a message to his work force, Blair said his last day would be

May 28.

"It is with deep regret that I informed the president today

that I will step down as director of national intelligence," Blair

said.

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

nation."

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

past.

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.,

said.

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.