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Intelligence Chief Dennis Blair To Step Down

Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, seen here in 2009, said he is stepping down Friday.
Lauren Victoria Burke
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, seen here in 2009, said he is stepping down Friday.

Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence, is stepping down after a series of high-profile clashes with the CIA and a damaging report from Congress on intelligence failures.

"It is with deep regret that I informed the president today that I will step down as director of national intelligence effective Friday, May 28th," Blair said in a statement.

Blair, a retired admiral, has had troubled relations with CIA Director Leon Panetta concerning who has authority over U.S. intelligence operations. The two butted heads over the appointment of a CIA station chief, a battle Panetta ultimately won.

NPR's Tom Gjelten tells Robert Siegel that the lines of responsibility between the CIA and the DNI were never clear. He says past heads of the two agencies also clashed, but under Blair and Panetta it was "much worse."

The administration already has "been interviewing several strong candidates to be his replacement," a U.S. official said Thursday.

Names mentioned as possible replacements for Blair include John Brennan, the president's homeland security and counterterrorism adviser; James R. Clapper, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and John Hamre, the president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In an e-mail Thursday night, Hamre said: "I have had no conversations with anyone about the job and wish to remain at CSIS."

Congress created the DNI in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, expressly to help the intelligence community better share and analyze information about terrorist threats.

President Obama in a statement thanked Blair for his service.

"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," Obama said.

The announcement comes the same week that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued a report that sharply criticized the Obama administration for intelligence lapses surrounding the botched Christmas Day bombing.

The report, signed by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Christopher Bond (R-MO), cited 14 failures to connect the dots within U.S. intelligence circles. Some of the information would have prevented Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, from boarding an airplane bound for Detroit with explosives in his underwear, the lawmakers said.

Abdulmutallab was taken into custody and is cooperating with U.S. prosecutors. President Obama has said the episode could have cost the lives of 300 passengers and crew.

Blair told the Senate Homeland Security Committee in February that the administration should have sent a High Value Detainee Interrogation Group unit to Detroit to question Abdulmutallab. But at the time of his remarks, the group was not yet in operation -- the White House had not signed off on its charter.

Later that day, Blair issued a statement saying his remarks had been "misconstrued."

Gjelten says "the final push came from the White House."

By law, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, David Gompert, becomes the acting director until the Senate confirms the president's nominee, said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report

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Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
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