Faced with stiff congressional opposition, the White House is having second thoughts about nominating James R. Clapper to be the next national intelligence director, a senior congressional staffer and a former U.S. official say.
National security adviser James Jones reached out to Congress' senior intelligence leadership this week, both sources said, getting an earful from Democrats and Republicans alike on Clapper's possible nomination.
The objections to Clapper, currently the Defense Department's intelligence chief and the leading candidate to replace the retiring Dennis Blair, center on whether his military background and its emphasis on hierarchy is the right skill set to corral the nation's 16 intelligence services and keep Congress happy.
With the DNI's limited funding and oversight authority, anyone who fills the role, the officials said, needs to be an adept negotiator and conciliator.
The Obama administration is now considering other options, but the list is short, because so many other candidates already have turned down the job, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the vetting process.
The White House declined to comment on the reports Thursday.
"They've already tried a diplomat, another general and an admiral" in the role, and found each one less than successful at one of the key roles of the job, working with the CIA, according to the Brookings Institute's Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer himself.
The Senate's intelligence leadership — Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Kit Bond, R-Mo. — both have publicly expressed reservations about Clapper. Two congressional staffers added that Clapper has alienated leaders in both parties, saying he doesn't answer questions or make himself available for questioning.
Feinstein and Bond are openly leaning to another option, current CIA Director Leon Panetta, whose lobbying prowess comes from years as a California congressman and White House official.
But Panetta is believed to be happy with his current job and well-liked within the CIA. The White House also believes Panetta has mended a previously fractious relationship with leaders on Capitol Hill, according to two current intelligence officials, making lawmakers reluctant to break with what's already working. Both the congressional and intelligence officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
One dark horse choice in the running for the DNI's post who would be comfortable dealing both with the CIA and its covert arm is Mike Vickers, an assistant defense secretary for special operations and low intensity conflict.
Vickers would not comment on the report that he was being considered for the job. But his candidacy also may face objections on Capitol Hill because of his military background, the two senior congressional aides said.
Blair had numerous clashes with Panetta, especially over the CIA's covert activities. Blair thought the CIA engaged in too much of it, but the White House rebuffed his efforts to establish an oversight role for the DNI, according to the two former officials.
One senior administration official said Blair had done exactly what the president told him to do, what the official called "hard, clarifying work."
But the official added, "it also made it much more difficult for the guy who broke the china to serve the dinner, so the president concluded it was time for evolutionary leadership."
Blair tendered his resignation a week ago, effective Friday.
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