WASHINGTON — The White House's leading candidate to replace Dennis Blair as national intelligence director is James R. Clapper, the Pentagon's top intelligence official, current and former U.S. officials said Friday.
Two current officials said another candidate is Mike Vickers, the Pentagon's assistant secretary for special operations. But a Defense Department official said Vickers has not been contacted for an interview. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because a replacement for Blair has not been announced.
Clapper currently is defense undersecretary for intelligence.
President Obama was already talking to candidates for national intelligence director's job before Blair resigned Thursday under pressure from the White House.
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president had spoken with a number of well-qualified candidates so he could have people ready in case he decided to make a change with the intelligence post.
Blair resigned after a tumultuous 16-month tenure that critics say underscored the disorganization inside the Obama administration's intelligence apparatus. A spate of high-profile attempted terrorist attacks that revealed new national-security lapses has rocked the White House over the past six months.
Gibbs was publicly supportive of Blair on Friday, commending him for increasing the government's focus on counterterrorism and radicalization, particularly in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia. Still, he said the president believed it was time to make a change.
"There is probably no harder job in Washington, besides being president, than being director of national intelligence," he said. "The president simply believed that it was time to transition to a different director."
Blair is the third person to hold the director of national intelligence job, which is to oversee the nation's 16 intelligence agencies. The post was created in response to the failure to prevent the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
As the Pentagon's new intelligence chief in 2007, Clapper recommended an end to the anti-terrorism database TALON that had been criticized for improperly storing information on peace activists and others whose actions posed no threat.