A Senate vote on President Barack Obama's choice for national intelligence director could be delayed into the fall because of questions about whether the nominee, a retired Air Force general, would be too close to the Pentagon.
The White House had hoped to have nominee James R. Clapper confirmed by July, but congressional staffers said Wednesday that timetable looks unlikely. Concerns about Clapper's independence from the Pentagon, where he is head of intelligence services, were heightened after the disclosure of a memo in which he questions whether the national intelligence director should have new powers proposed in the 2010 intelligence authorization bill.
A delay in seating the director of national intelligence would be another blow to the post-Sept. 11 goal of improving coordination of intelligence among the nation's 16 intelligence agencies.
Congressional staffers say the memo is viewed by top-tier members of the Senate Intelligence Committee as lending credence to concerns that Clapper would not buck Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who brought Clapper to the Pentagon after he was appointed in 2006 by President George W. Bush.
The senators' reaction to the memo, written about a month before Obama picked Clapper for the job, suggests they are unlikely to confirm Clapper as quickly as Obama hopes, according to the staffers. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the confirmation process is private.
The April 24 memo, obtained by The Associated Press, details Clapper's objections to 17 provisions of the intelligence authorization bill. Staffers who helped draft it say it would provide a larger budget and more executive power to the director of national intelligence, or DNI.
Gates already controls 80 percent of the reported $50 billion annual budget for the intelligence community.
Clapper's memo raises concerns that the new provisions "would grant the DNI the authority to make unilateral decisions on certain management issues," without making sure the defense secretary first agreed with them.
For instance, the memo says the act would require the DNI to assess foreign language proficiency across all the spy agencies, including those under the Defense Department. In the memo, Clapper warns that the proposal could interfere with the defense secretary's "management of personnel with foreign language skills in DoD intelligence components."
Under another provision, the DNI would conduct personnel assessments across the intelligence community, to see if each agency had the manpower it needed for the job at hand. Clapper's memo objects to that, too, and objects to a provision requiring the DNI to ensure that all agencies, including those run by the Pentagon, operate in an energy-efficient way.
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said Wednesday that the memo does not represent Clapper's total thinking about the role of the DNI. It was simply a bureaucratic exercise by Clapper's staff that represents a narrow response to a request about how draft legislation would affect the authorities of the defense secretary, Vietor said.
The chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has already voiced misgivings over Clapper as intelligence director and says she would ask for his views on the bill's provisions "and whether he believes a stronger DNI would weaken the authorities of the secretary of defense."
Feinstein says her first priority is passing the intelligence authorization act. Meanwhile, Clapper is scheduled to meet senators privately before the end of the week.
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