Obama to name new spy chief

June 5, 2010 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, Jun 5- President Barack Obama will name retired lieutenant general and veteran intelligence expert James Clapper on Saturday as his new spy chief, officials said, in a bid to improve troubled US intelligence gathering.

Clapper, a retired lieutenant general with decades of intelligence experience, would replace Dennis Blair, who stepped down last month amid heavy criticism after a string of security shortcomings, among them failure to thwart planned attacks including one by an Al-Qaeda linked group to bring down a US airliner on December 25.

Several intelligence and administration officials confirmed to AFP that Clapper will be nominated Saturday as the director of national intelligence (DNI), including one defence official who said he enjoys strong backing from Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

The post was introduced after September 11, 2001 amid deep congressional concern over the systemic lapses which led to the terrorist attacks on the United States, and then the botched intelligence over Iraq\’s weapons of mass destruction which helped prod the US invasion of Iraq but which were never found.

DNI oversees the 16 agencies that make up the US intelligence community, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency.

Clapper is currently undersecretary of defence for intelligence, the top intelligence post at the Pentagon, as well as the director of defence intelligence, which reports directly to the DNI and therefore gives him comprehensive knowledge of the post for which he is being nominated.

If confirmed, Clapper would become the fourth DNI since the cabinet-level position\’s creation five years ago.

The defence official said the administration encountered some resistance initially in Congress over the nomination but he believes key lawmakers have come around in support.

Clapper has already ruffled some feathers on Capitol Hill, with key lawmakers warning he is not transparent in his dealings with Congress.

Senator Kit Bond, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement: "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."

But Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent who co-authored legislation in 2004 to create the position, quickly applauded Obama\’s choice.

"General Clapper has vast experience in the intelligence community, has a proven record as an administrator and has always been a proponent of a strong DNI," Lieberman said.

Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller said he believed Clapper would be "up to the task," but strongly hinted at the scrutiny that lawmakers will pay to the nomination.

Clapper retired from the US Air Force in 1995 after a 32-year career, and spent much of the following years working for private defence contractors and teaching.

But he also has held key intelligence positions, including serving from September 2001 to 2006 as the first civilian head of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which collects and analyzes data from commercial and government satellites or aircraft, among other sources.

Clapper has been nicknamed "the Godfather of HUMINT" – using human contacts for gathering intelligence in addition to high-tech methods like satellite imagery or intercepting communications.

DNI and the other intelligence agencies came under blistering criticism in recent months for failing to connect the dots about a Nigerian man suspected of bringing an explosive device in his underwear onto a US-bound passenger jet on Christmas Day, as well as for other intelligence failures over planned attacks on New York city.


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