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Senate panel approves Clapper's nomination as intelligence chief

By Pam Benson, CNN National Security Producer
  • James Clapper is a step closer to being the new Director of National Intelligence
  • The Senate Intelligence Committee unanimously approves Clapper's nomination
  • The full Senate is expected to vote on the matter before its August recess

Washington (CNN) -- James Clapper is one Senate vote away from becoming the nation's next intelligence chief.

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday unanimously approved President Barack Obama's choice of Clapper to be the Director of National Intelligence.

The full Senate is expected to take up the nomination before it leaves on its August recess at the end of next week.

In a statement released after the committee vote, Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said Clapper's "long experience in intelligence certainly qualifies" him for the job.

Although Feinstein had reservations about Clapper when he was first nominated, she said his testimony before the committee convinced her he was the right person for the job.

"He has described for me and the Senate Intelligence Committee how he will be a strong DNI, independent of the influence of the Department of Defense, and he has promised to work in concert with the CIA and all agencies of the intelligence community," Feinstein's statement said.

Vice Chairman Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond of Missouri, the senior Republican on the committee, issued a brief statement that was more guarded.

"Gen. Clapper has served our nation honorably for 46 years and I admire him, he has assured me that he does not intend to be a hood ornament, but judging from recent history my yea vote is really a triumph of hope over experience," Bond's statement said.

During his recent confirmation hearing, Clapper said he wouldn't agree to take the job if he thought he "was going to be a titular figurehead or hood ornament."

A number of senators had questioned whether the DNI had enough authority to get the job done. Clapper said he did not need any new authority to oversee the 16 intelligence agencies and offices.

"With all of the discussion about the lack of authority, of the perceived weakness of the office of director of national intelligence, I believe it already does have considerable authority, either explicit in the law.. or implicit that can be exerted," Clapper said. He vowed to "push the envelope" to be successful in the job.

Clapper is a retired Air Force lieutenant general who has spent most of his career in the intelligence community. He served as the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. He is currently the Defense Department's chief intelligence officer.

Clapper would become the fourth DNI since the position was created five years ago, succeeding Dennis Blair, who was pressured to resign because of differences with the White House over the scope of his role and turf battles with the CIA director.

The office of DNI was established by Congress in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to help improve the coordination of the intelligence community and to correct deficiencies in information-sharing among its members.

From National Security Producer Pam Benson