By Susan Crabtree - 06/04/10 09:12 PM EDT
President Barack Obama has tapped James Clapper to be the fourth director of national intelligence, according to an intelligence source.
Clapper, the Pentagon’s top intelligence official, succeeds former U.S. Navy Adm. Dennis Blair, who resigned under pressure in mid-May.
The White House has faced intense pressure from Congress to name a replacement in the weeks since Blair’s departure. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) last week urged Obama to nominate a successor quickly and boost the powers of the positions to reduce the risk of repeated intelligence failures.
Several former intelligence officials and key members of Congress have called on Obama to clearly delineate the position’s authority within the intelligence community over budget and personnel matters.
In Clapper, the White House has elevated a seasoned intelligence official. The former lieutenant general in the U.S. Air Force serves as the under secretary of defense for intelligence and previously held several key positions within the intelligence community including director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
His nomination could face tough partisan opposition in Congress. The prospect of his selection has been drawing fire from vocal GOP critics of the administration’s national security policy, including the senior Republicans on the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and Rep. Pete Hoesktra (R-Mich.).
"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," Bond said in a statement Friday. "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."
Hoekstra has called Clapper “exactly the wrong person” for the DNI job because of his resistance to keeping Congress informed.
Hoesktra also predicted that Clapper would tangle with Congress because he “doesn’t like” providing information during testimony before committees with jurisdiction.
“What I’ve found is that he doesn’t like Congress – you can’t get a straight answer from him when he’s testifying. It’s like pulling teeth. He would be a sharp contrast to Director Blair,” he said.
Hoesktra also has accused Clapper, as well as White House officials, of actively trying to keep critical intelligence information from him.
On New Year’s Day just after the failed Christmas Day bombing attack of a jetliner in Michigan, Hoesktra traveled to Yemen to look into reports about renewed al Qaeda activity there as well as links to the attempted attack.
Hoesktra said Clapper and White House officials had called Yemeni embassy officials and told them not to give him any information.
“The White House and I believe Clapper called over there and said, ‘Don’t tell Hoesktra anything,’” he recalled in an interview with The Hill. “It was the first time in my nine years on the intelligence committee that something like that has happened. The ambassador and others on the ground couldn’t talk to me.”
Hoestra spokesman Jamal Ware reiterated his boss’s criticism of Clapper on Friday, and argued opposition on Capitol Hill is “overwhelmingly bipartisan.”
"With due respect, this is about the legal requirement of the administration to keep Congress currently and fully informed and its repeated failure to do so,” Ware said. “Mr. Clapper's selection as the next DNI will not correct this problem, and his already poor relationship with Congress suggests it will get only worse."
This story was posted at 4:44 p.m. and updated at 8 p.m.