The Night Beat: Clapper, and What's Next for the Intelligence Community

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Blair --> Clapper
The veto threat over the JSF engine
The GOP begins its new Contract with America campaign (but isn't calling it that)
House's Hell Week next week
The candidate and the murdered stripper

Yes, President Obama has a cold.

The resignation of Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair was expected, quickly, after a Senate intelligence committee report damned his leadership. The DNI's office, the report concluded, had the capacity to make forceful change, but leadership wasn't being exercised to change it. Numerous intelligence officials said they've been informed that Gen. James Clapper (ret), currently the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, is the leading candidate (among several) to be named DNI, and sooner rather than later.  David Gompert, the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence (the P-DDNI -- pronounced Pea-Did-ney)  becomes acting DNI until the Senate confirms the President's nominee.

Interviews for Blair's successor began after the SSCI's classified report was released two months ago. Obama's staff began to lose patience with Blair last year, believing he chose the wrong battles to fight, including one with CIA director Leon Panetta about choosing senior intelligence reps for countries and another about integrating covert action with national intelligence priorities. He was seen to have focused on DNI turf, rather than flattening and clarifying intelligence collection channels. Soon 12/25, the failed X-mas day bombing attack, Blair embarrassed the WH by misstating the status of the new High-Value Detainee Interrogation Unit (HIG) teams. Several senior officials urged Obama to cut Blair loose after 12/25, but a decision was made to give Blair the chance to implement reforms quickly.  Republican line is that Blair's resignation is the result Obama's politicization of intelligence and refusal to listen to the IC when it comes to matters of domestic terrorism. Not really true: DOJ has been fairly deferential to the IC.  From Blair's perspective, the WH never gave him the backing that the DNI truly needs, and Obama seemed to rely more on the advice of John Brennan, chief counterrorism adviser, than he did Blair. 

Many senior officials and DNI employees found out about the resignation through news reports. So did many senators.
 
One former senior intelligence official e-mails: "
Every candidate is sub optimized because Leon Panetta is the most politically connected guy in the establishment so he is really in charge. So, my analysis is who ever is picked it doesn't really matter. Panetta is the boss because that is who the White House listens to." 

A long-time (and still operating) U.S. official: "I never understood DNI's role even in theory, saw no improvement in intelligence in practice, and indeed believe creation of an additional bureaucracy produced ... more bureaucracy. "

Clapper would be an inspired choice, but it is not clear whether he would have agreed to accept the job unless he had total budget authority and the White House and Congress's permission to streamline the entire enterprise. Clapper is known as a flattener in bureaucratic terms -- what consultants would call a "de-layerer." He abhors redundancy.

Pros: the CIA respects him. He's a lifelong intelligence officer and knows the territory. The key power centers at the Pentagon like him, and Sec. Def. Gates values his counsel. He also gets along well with the more hawish holdovers in middle management from the Bush administration. Cons: he's from the Pentagon. He's an innovator. The CIA isn't afraid of him. He's struggled to reorganize the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Takeway: He has strategic relationships throughout defense intelligence community and is a results-oriented, no-BS guy. Is this the next step toward a cabinet-level Secretary of Intelligence w/ responsibility and budget and authority over ALL IC-related entities everywhere?

Note: the ex-9/11 Commission chairs still don't think the DNI has enough authority or power to do the job that Congress and the President expect the DNI to do.
Other potential replacements include Former Sen, Chuck Hagel, Joint Chiefs Vice Chair Gen. James Cartwright, Ambassador to India Tim Roemer, and ASD/Special Ops, and former Pres. Bill Clinton.

Tomorrow, at a fancy hotel in Tyson's Corner, the major senior executives and former senior executives of the intelligence community, including Clapper, will meet to honor Gates.
Noted: Sheryl Jasielum Shenberger was named director of the National Archives's National Declassification Center today. She's currently a branch chief at the CIA Declass. Center.

News that funding an extra engine for the Joint Strike Fighter will remain in the latest House Armed Services Committee mark-up angered Defense Sec. Robert Gates.
"While I do not have all of the details, I am very concerned about the initial reports.  In particular, it appears that the committee continues to insist that the department add an extra engine to the Joint Strike Fighter, or JSF, program.  In addition, the detailed conditions they have imposed on the overall JSF program would make it essentially un-executable and impose unacceptable schedule and budget costs. ... Accordingly, as I have stated repeatedly, should the Congress insist on adding funding for a costly and unnecessary JSF extra engine or direct changes that seriously disrupt the JSF program, or impose additional C-17 aircraft, I will strongly recommend that the president veto such legislation." ... White House officials say that the veto threat is serious.
 
Flag officers on the rise: Friday: Gates pins the fourth star on Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander at NSA headquarters in Ft. Meade, MD. Alexander is the Cinc Of the U.S. Cyber Command and the director of the agency -- DIRNSA, as they call the position. 

The Senate passed financial reform.

The House, meanwhile, faces "hell week" next week. Too much to do and not enough time to do it: Just today they announced a bumping up of major tax break legislation, which is an annual must-do package, plus the COMPETES act, also a critical economy piece.  Add that to small biz lending bill and the DISLOSE act (to "fix" the Supreme Court decision).

Bizarre story out of Michigan: a retired police officer says that GOV candidate Attorney General Mike Cox (R) was present at a party after which a stripper hired for it was murdered. (Seriously). Cox says he wasn't there.

On Sunday, Rep.Darrell Issa really hopes that David Gregory asks Rep. Joe Sestak whether Rahm Emanuel offered him a top administration job in exchange for him dropping out of the PA SEN race.
 
Next week, House Republicans will announce a new project called 'America Speaking Out' which will engage the American people in crafting the new agenda House Republicans will release later this year, says a spokesman. It bows Tuesday at the Newseum.

Charlie Cook's bottom line on PA 12"The silver lining for Republicans is that the NRCC's struggles will matter much less in November than they did in this special election, when a broader playing field of races will feature plenty of well-funded GOP candidates free to craft their own message and run directly against Washington. The good news for Democrats is that labeling GOP opposition as out-of-touch and economically backwards can still stick in a difficult year. Critz's win moves PA-12 to the Lean Democratic column. Overall, our outlook of a 30 to 40 seat gain for House Republicans remains unchanged."

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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