update: Dennis Blair's resignation as Director of National Intelligence was announced shortly after the item below was posted. "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 wrote in a statement, which can be read in full here.
While his own spokespeople were unreachable late Thursday afternoon, two U.S. intelligence officials confirmed to Declassified that Dennis Blair, the retired four-star admiral who became President Obama's first director of national intelligence, is on his way out. According to ABC News White House correspondent Jake Tapper, over the last few weeks Obama has been ruminating over whether to ask Blair to resign and has even talked with potential successors. Tapper said that Blair offered to resign after a conversation with Obama in the Oval Office Thursday afternoon, and Obama accepted the offer. People who have been briefed officially on the resignation said it was unclear to them at this point precisely when Blair would actually depart the intelligence czar's office.
While the timing of Blair's departure seemed a bit abrupt, the notion that his position inside the administration was shaky has been common gossip in Washington intelligence and political circles for weeks if not months. Blair, who had a glittering career as a military leader, rising to become commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, gained a reputation as a not particularly adroit operator in the Machiavellian world of D.C. espionage politics. One of Blair's earliest missteps was his attempt to appoint former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman as head of the National Intelligence Council, effectively the chief analyst of the entire U.S. intelligence community. The nomination was canceled after pro-Israel organizations questioned some of Freeman's public statements.
Blair also lost battles, originally begun by his predecessors as intelligence czar, to win White House approval for the intelligence czar's office to have the power to name its own supreme U.S. intelligence representative in countries abroad, and to give the intelligence czar's office a place in the chain of command for "covert operations" proposed and carried out by the CIA. CIA chief Leon Panetta fought hard and successfully to preserve the CIA's historical and exclusive prerogative to name U.S. intelligence station chiefs overseas. Panetta also succeeded in limiting the intelligence czar's role in covert operations to an advisory one.
During the aftermath of the Christmas Day attempted underpants airplane bombing, Blair irritated White House officials with undoubtedly truthful, but politically awkward, statements to Congress about how U.S. agencies handled suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab after his arrest. Perhaps as a consequence, Blair's public role in handling the aftermath of the more recent attempted car bombing of Times Square was reduced to the point of near invisibility.
The real question now is who Obama will choose to replace Blair and whether anyone truly competent will want a job whose powers, created by Congress in the wake of 9/11, are still murky and which involves acting as a referee and CEO for a band of squabbling and highly competitive agencies, some of whom specialize in deviousness. Already, some Washington insiders are handicapping possible successors to Blair: one list drawn up by intelligence insiders contains 13 names.