WASHINGTON — Dennis Blair will resign today as the nation's intelligence director after a tenure marred by the failures of U.S. spy agencies to detect terrorist plots and by political missteps that undermined his standing with the White House.
Blair, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, was pushed out 16 months after he became President Barack Obama's pick to be the nation's third director of national intelligence. His departure is likely to renew debate over whether the job is fundamentally flawed.
Obama praised Blair's integrity and said that under his leadership, the nation's intelligence services had "performed admirably and effectively."
Blair's offer to step down came during a phone conversation with Obama on Thursday in which the president said he planned to put someone new in the director position, according to an official familiar with the exchange. Blair's exit creates a national security vacancy at a time when U.S. spy agencies are under pressure to step up their defenses against terrorist threats.
His departure had been rumored for months, but the nature of his resignation — without a replacement ready to be named — suggested a lack of coordination.
The U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Obama had first raised the possibility of replacing Blair in discussions with him this week. The White House had indicated a preference that Blair stay in the job until a successor could be named. Blair is the highest-ranking member of the administration to resign.
Current and former U.S. officials identified three candidates who have been spoken to about the job: former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., who serves as co-chair of Obama's intelligence advisory board; James Clapper, a retired Air Force lieutenant general serving as undersecretary of defense for intelligence; and John Hamre, a former deputy secretary of defense who leads the Defense Policy Board.