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Clapper nomination good to go

Following a brief hiccup, all remaining holds or threats of holds on the nomination of James Clapper to be the next director of national intelligence are being cleared up, and the expectation on Capitol Hill is that he will be confirmed by week’s end. Yesterday, John McCain‘s office said that the Arizona senator had placed ...

Following a brief hiccup, all remaining holds or threats of holds on the nomination of James Clapper to be the next director of national intelligence are being cleared up, and the expectation on Capitol Hill is that he will be confirmed by week’s end.

Yesterday, John McCain‘s office said that the Arizona senator had placed a "hold" on the Clapper nomination due to his outstanding request for specific information related to intelligence program acquisitions oversight. Today, the senator’s concerns appear to be alleviated.

"This afternoon, Senator McCain received the report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that he first requested nearly one year ago, and as a result he is releasing his hold on General Clapper’s nomination," his office said in a statement. "This report confirms Senator McCain’s longstanding concerns about the poor oversight and cost overruns in intelligence technology programs."

The Cable caught up with Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, who said that two other senators were holding up the nomination, committee ranking Republican Kit Bond, R-MO, and Tom Coburn, R-OK. The senators wanted ODNI to deliver an overdue threat assessment on the prisoners being held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Feinstein said Bond and Coburn’s requests were being fulfilled. "These concerns are being satisfied. They are connected to information. Senator Bond should have his and I think Coburn’s hold is connected to Bond’s," she said.

Bond’s office denied he had a "hold" on the Clapper nomination, a nomination Bond supported in a unanimous 15-0 committee vote last week. But that’s just a matter of semantics. Most holds are merely threats by individual senators to oppose consenting to a full Senate vote. That has the effect of "holding" the nomination, whether a formal "hold" is filed with the Senate clerk’s office or not.

Bond told The Cable Tuesday that he is getting the information he desires.

"Today I talked to General Clapper and I’m pleased the intelligence community is now working to provide the documents and access that I — and other members — have been seeking and that they are required by law to share with lawmakers," he said.

Coburn also denied he has a formal "hold" on Clapper but said he was worried about the Guantánamo threat assessment.

"I think it’s important that we look at the vast number of people that have been released under the Bush administration and the Obama administration from Guantánamo who are now trying to kill American soldiers," he said. "And I think that information is due and the intelligence committee ought to be getting it. So I am trying to do whatever I can to make good decisions."

Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, D-MI, insisted that he and the Obama administration are still trying to close the prison at Guantánamo and that the threat assessment should help make that happen because it might confirm that the Obama administration has done a better job than Bush in selecting prisoners for release.

"I think it is useful to find out if that’s correct, and if so, what the success rate is attributed to, so we can build on that and hopefully make a better identification of who’s likely to go back to the battlefield," Levin said. "I don’t know what it has to do with Clapper, though."

Levin said he would try to remove, both in conference and on the floor, provisions in the defense authorization bill that prohibit sending a number of detainees to specific countries and thwart the administration’s plans to relocate them to a federal prison in Illinois.

The defense authorization bill is being set up to move in September, but might require GOP acquiescence to move forward. Unless those provisions are removed, closing the Guantánamo prison will have to be delayed further, Levin said. "We just can’t seem to get it done."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin