Obama sacks his intelligence chief after security failures

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The Independent US

Barack Obama's Director of National Intelligence was forced to resign yesterday after the American President concluded that he was culpable in the country's recent national security failures. Dennis Blair, a former Navy admiral, has been expected to leave for some time. His exit was finally confirmed when the President reportedly phoned him to ask for his resignation on Thursday.

Now a White House that has been uncommonly good at maintaining continuity in the topmost ranks of the administration has been left to pick up the pieces in the face of criticism from Republicans over what they termed the politicisation of the post. The notorious fissures that regularly open up in the American intelligence community will only make Mr Obama's next move trickier.

After his call asking Mr Blair to step down, Mr Obama issued a statement yesterday describing the man he appointed 16 months before as having "a rare sense of purpose and patriotism". Mr Obama added: "During his time as DNI, our intelligence community has performed admirably and effectively at a time of great challenges to our security." It has been an open secret that Mr Blair was poorly regarded by the White House.

Mr Blair notably tangled with Leon Panetta, the Director of the CIA, and his departure was seen as inevitable after the bungled response to the attempted Christmas Day airliner bombing over Detroit. In testimony to Congress, he admitted that he had not been consulted over whether a special team of crack investigators created for such cases had been dispatched to interrogate the suspect. It had not.

The post of intelligence director was created by George Bush after the 9/11 attacks of 2001 in an attempt to improve co-ordination between America's 16 intelligence agencies. By most reckonings, Mr Blair had failed to make that happen. But some Republicans have accused the White House of scapegoating Mr Blair for shortfalls in intelligence. Criticism at the time was also directed at Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security Secretary, the Attorney General, Eric Holder, and President Obama's terrorism adviser, John Brennan.

"Blair's resignation is the result of the Obama administration's rampant politicisation of national security and outright disregard for congressional intelligence oversight," said Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. "Dennis Blair was the one person you could rely on ... and he's the one the President let go."

Sources in Washington said Mr Brennan is apparently among those being considered as a replacement, as well as James Clapper, who runs intelligence affairs at the Pentagon. His position was widely seen as untenable last week when Senate Democrats issued a report on the Christmas bombing plot that was scathing about his department's failure to connect the dots of intelligence information already available on the suspect, Umar Abdulmutallab of Nigeria.