Exclusive: President Obama To Replace Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair*

By Jaketapper

May 20, 2010 4:56pm

ABC News has learned that President Obama will replace the Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair (ret.) His resignation will come as soon as tomorrow, sources tell ABC News.

For several weeks President Obama has been holding serious conversations about whether to ask Blair to step down and has interviewed candidates to replace him. After a discussion this afternoon between the president and Blair on a secure phone line about the best way forward, Blair offered to resign and the president said he would accept, sources told ABC News.

Multiple administration sources tell ABC News that Blair’s tenure internally has been a rocky one.

On the heels of a number of intelligence failures involving the Fort Hood shooter, failed Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouq Abdulmuttalab, and questions about failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, it was no longer clear that Blair — tasked with coordinating the 16 intelligence agencies and ensuring that they cooperate and share information – still had the full and complete confidence of the president, sources say.

One official tells ABC News that President Obama sought Blair’s resignation earlier this week, but Blair pushed back, hoping to convince the president to change his mind.

That did not happen.

The official says that there were high-profile problems on Blair’s watch and those certainly didn’t help him, but the ultimate reason Blair is gone is because of the dissatisfaction President Obama and the National Security Staff had with Blair’s ability to share intelligence in a tight, coherent and timely way.

This was, the official said, the result of long pent-up dissatisfaction with Blair as the principal intelligence adviser to the president, responsible for briefing the president every day and briefing the National Security Staff. In short, officials didn’t think the briefings were relevant to what the president was focused on that day or time period. They weren’t crisp or well-presented.

At other times, Blair didn’t seem to take “no” for an answer, the official said. He was pushing an initiative dealing with intelligence and other countries, and he kept pushing it even after President Obama turned it down.

The news will not come as a surprise to those in the intelligence community. For months, Blair has turf battles while the White House made it clear that it had more confidence in others, such as counterterrorism and homeland security adviser John Brennan, taking the lead both publicly and privately.

Last November, the White House sided with CIA director Leon Panetta when Blair attempted, against Panetta’s wishes, to pick the chief U.S. intelligence officer in each country, a job that traditionally has gone to the CIA station chief.

At other points, Blair seemed simply out of the loop. In hearings looking into failed Christmas Day bomber Abdulmuttalab, Blair seemed unaware that the High-Value interrogation Group was not yet operational.  He later walked back his statement.

Just this week – after a scathing report on intelligence failures and Abdulmuttalab by the Senate Intelligence Committee  — Blair acknowledged in a statement that “institutional and technological barriers remain that prevent seamless sharing of information.”

The Senate Committee report was a strong message of disapproval of the job being done by Blair and the National Counterterrorism Center.

Blair also noted some improvements to the National Counterterrorism Center, which he supervises, which now has a unit “to thoroughly and exhaustively pursue terrorist threat threads, including identifying appropriate follow-up actions by other intelligence and law enforcement organizations.”

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg was one of those considered for the job, but is no longer being considered for the post.

UPDATE: Later today, Blair issued the following statement: 

"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. 

I have had no greater honor or pleasure than to lead the remarkably talented and patriotic men and women of the Intelligence Community. 

Every day, you have worked tirelessly to provide intelligence support for two wars and to prevent an attack on our homeland. You are true heroes, just like the members of the Armed Forces, firefighters, and police whose job it is to keep our nation safe.

Your work over the past 16 months has made the Intelligence Community more integrated, agile, and representative of American values. Keep it up – I will be cheering for you."

-Jake Tapper

*This post has been updated with more information.

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