McCain lifts hold on Clapper to be spy chief

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senator John McCain said on Tuesday he would allow a Senate vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee to be intelligence chief, but another Republican senator indicated he may stall the nomination.

McCain lifted a “hold” -- a procedural move blocking a Senate floor vote -- on the nomination of James Clapper as director of national intelligence, after receiving a classified report he had sought on an intelligence technology program.

“This report confirms Senator McCain’s longstanding concerns about the poor oversight and cost overruns in intelligence technology programs,” McCain’s office said in a statement.

It was uncertain whether there could now be a Senate vote on Clapper. Senator Tom Coburn suggested he would consider holding up his nomination if necessary to get a separate intelligence assessment on the threat posed by releasing Guantanamo detainees.

Many of those who have been released from the detention center “are now trying to kill American soldiers,” Coburn told reporters on Tuesday. “We shouldn’t release another person who wants to kill Americans, out of Guantanamo.”

“I’m trying to use whatever (tools) I can for us to make good decisions,” Coburn said.

Obama nominated Clapper in June after ousting Admiral Dennis Blair from the intelligence chief’s job. The nomination already has been delayed several weeks while some lawmakers questioned whether Clapper, who has served as undersecretary of defense for intelligence, would be too beholden to the Pentagon.

But Clapper overcame the doubts of lawmakers on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who unanimously approved him last week. He had expected to be confirmed this week until Republicans began holding up his nomination.

If he is not confirmed this week, he will have to wait until mid-September after the congressional recess. The post does not require confirmation by the House of Representatives.

If confirmed by the Senate, Clapper would be the fourth person in five years to hold the director of national intelligence post.

Blair’s 16-month tenure was marked by bureaucratic turf battles with the CIA and the White House, and criticism over the intelligence community’s failure to prevent a botched Christmas Day attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner.

Congress created the director of national intelligence post in 2004 to oversee the 16 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, including the CIA, in response to lapses exposed by the September 11 attacks on the United States. But critics say the post has never been given enough authority to be effective.

Editing by Philip Barbara