WASHINGTON — The Senate late Thursday confirmed retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper as the next director of national intelligence, voting him oversight of the nation's 16 spy agencies.
A nearly empty chamber approved Clapper's nomination by voice vote as senators sought to begin their monthlong August recess.
President Barack Obama nominated Clapper, who has served as the Pentagon's chief intelligence official, to succeed retired Adm. Dennis Blair. Blair stepped down under pressure after clashing with other intelligence officials.
Key senators such Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Kit Bond, R-Mo., the chairman and top Republican, respectively, on the Senate Intelligence Committee, initially had reservations about Clapper.
Bond lifted a hold on the nomination after speaking with national security adviser Jim Jones on Thursday, a senior congressional staff aide said. Republicans wanted access to the threat assessments on each accused terrorist detainee held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison. Jones released much of the information to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
The staffer spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.
Feinstein had questioned whether a nominee who had spent so much time at the Pentagon – as a general and then heading the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial Agency – could represent mostly civilian intelligence services.
Bond also had pressed Clapper to revitalize the national intelligence director position, which was created by Congress in 2004 but has limited funding and executive powers – which in turn have hamstrung the previous directors' authority.
Clapper has pledged to work with Congress to clarify and even expand the director's authority, although he insists the process will not require new legislation, but rather careful interpretation of the existing law. Clapper also said he will have a cordial relationship with CIA Director Leon Panetta, who had sparred with Blair in turf wars.
Clapper's confirmation came hours after the Senate passed last year's intelligence act, which had languished in the House. Feinstein and Bond said the measure represented a House-Senate compromise that the House would pass before Congress adjourns for the year.
One of the sticking points was that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had been negotiating with the White House to require that intelligence briefings on covert action include the congressional intelligence committees and not just senior congressional leaders. The compromise required special record-keeping in such cases.
Associated Press writer Kimberly Dozier contributed to this report.