WASHINGTON - James R. Clapper Jr., the Pentagon's chief official for intelligence, counterintelligence, and security matters, has been chosen to become the next director of national intelligence, U.S. officials said Friday.
If confirmed, Clapper, a retired Air Force general, would replace Dennis C. Blair, who resigned last month.
Created after the 9/11 attacks, the national intelligence director coordinates 16 intelligence agencies and is supposed to smooth out areas of conflict.
The director also is in charge of the president's daily intelligence briefing, putting him in close contact with the president and sometimes, according to critics, making him a convenient target for presidential wrath.
Blair left in part because President Obama became disenchanted with his intelligence work on two terrorism attempts, botched by the suspect in each case - the failed Christmas bombing attempt on an airliner bound for Detroit and the bungled attempt to set off an explosive device in New York's Times Square. He also got involved in a turf war with CIA chief Leon Panetta.
The director does not have operational control over any of the agencies he nominally oversees. But defense officials said Clapper has the skills to succeed in a post where Blair and some others have failed and would be able to cajole the various spy agencies to work together.
"Clapper's power is knowing how to work the system, knowing how the intelligence bureaucracy works, and effectively managing it," said a senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Clapper retired from active duty 15 years ago and has worked in and out of the Defense Department since.
Serving as a civilian head of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in the George W. Bush administration, Clapper was at odds with then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and was ousted from his post.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates brought Clapper back to serve as the department's top intelligence job and professionalize a part of the Pentagon that some felt was politicized under Rumsfeld.
But the blunt-spoken Clapper's confirmation could get contentious. He has been combative with lawmakers during past congressional hearings.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R., Mich.) said Clapper showed disdain for Congress in hearings on Capitol Hill.
The committee chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), said she wanted a civilian in the role.