WASHINGTON — The nation’s top intelligence officer, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, announced his resignation Friday after months of friction and repeated duels with White House officials.
The retired Navy admiral gave no reason for his departure in his public statement, which he circulated to the 16 intelligence agencies that he oversees, nor did he express thanks to President Barack Obama for the opportunity to serve under him.
A U.S. official indicated that Obama had asked Blair to resign, saying that a job search was already well under way.
The White House has “been interviewing several strong candidates to be his (Blair’s) replacement,” said the U.S. official, who declined to elaborate. The official requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
“Dennis Blair has a remarkable record of service to the United States, and I am grateful for his leadership as Director of National Intelligence,” Obama said in a statement Thursday evening. “Over the course of many decades, Admiral Blair has served with great integrity, intellect, and commitment to our country and the values that we hold dear. During his time as DNI, our intelligence community has performed admirably and effectively at a time of great challenges to our security, and I have valued his sense of purpose and patriotism.”
Among the possible candidates to succeed Blair are retired Air Force Gen. James Clapper, the under secretary of defense for intelligence; former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican who co-chairs the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board; and Marine Gen. James Cartwright, the deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Blair’s resignation follows intelligence lapses over the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner and the unsuccessful bid to detonate an SUV filled with explosives and propane in Times Square in Manhattan earlier this month.
The Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report Tuesday cataloguing 14 intelligence failures that led up to the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 allegedly by a 23-year-old al Qaida operative from Nigeria using plastic explosives hidden in his underwear.
The list included failures inside the intelligence community to share information that was known about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s links to the al Qaida branch in Yemen and his extremist views before he boarded the flight in Amsterdam.
Blair has served as director of national intelligence since January 2009, and has provided Obama with his morning intelligence briefing most days of the week. He’ll be the highest official to resign from the administration since Obama was sworn in.
Blair’s office was created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as part of an effort to coordinate the operations of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies better.
“It is with deep regret that I informed the President today that I will step down,” Blair said in his statement. “I have had no greater honor or pleasure than to lead the remarkably talented and patriotic men and women of the intelligence community.”
Blair began his tenure on a controversial note, drawing fire from lawmakers for tapping as head of the intelligence community’s top analytical council a veteran U.S. diplomat who’d made controversial statements about China and Israel and had ties to foreign governments.
The diplomat, Chas Freeman, withdrew his nomination.
U.S. officials also have cited tensions between Blair and Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, a former senior CIA officer.
In November, Brennan sided with CIA Director Leon Panetta in a fight with Blair over the power to appoint the top U.S. intelligence officers in individual countries. The CIA director traditionally has named one of his officers — but Blair sought the power to assign the posts to officials from other intelligence agencies.
While not defending Blair, who they said spent more time organizing meetings than he did coordinating the intelligence community’s feuding fiefdoms, two U.S. intelligence officials asserted that Brennan had “been on Blair’s case” for some time, as one of them put it.
Among other things, they said, Brennan privately criticized Blair’s handing of the failed Christmas Day bombing attempt.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, praised Blair’s “long and distinguished service” but said the country faces “serious national security developments.” She also said that by law, Blair’s deputy, David Gompert, a former State Department official, would assume his position until a new director is confirmed.
Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he learned of Blair’s resignation from the media.
Blair “deserves this nation’s thanks for his long service to our country. It must have been challenging to be forced on the sidelines by the attorney general, but still catch all the blame for failings,” Bond said.
Bond has been critical of the way Attorney General Eric Holder has handled the investigation into the Christmas Day bombing attempt and the recent failed car bomb in Times Square.
“It has been very obvious that the DNI is not the one who’s running the agencies. (Holder) has, in effect, taken over the intelligence community, and I don’t think that’s the best way to keep America safe,” said Bond.
(Margaret Talev and David Goldstein contributed to this article.)