The White House got it right in selecting retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper to serve as undersecretary of defense for intelligence. With a long and distinguished career in the intelligence field, both in an out of uniform and including stints as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), Mr. Clapper would be a strong choice for the position in any circumstances.


In the current circumstances, with the
United States
at war and with the wounds from the turf fights between former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the intelligence community still fresh, the choice is ideal. Mr. Clapper has spent a good portion of his career at the nexus of military and national-strategic intelligence: He will bring not only experience but the proper perspective to the new position.


Mr. Clapper was a unifying force at NGA, which struggled in its early years as an amalgam of several agencies that previously served either the military or intelligence community – he knows a thing or two about allocating resources among the often competing yet equally justifiable demands of both camps. He never displayed any appetite for bureaucratic squabbling that might distract from the job at hand. In fact, he is better known for reaching across bureaucratic boundaries, as evidenced by the program of personnel exchanges with other agencies, notably the National Security Agency, that was launched on his watch.


The job for which Mr. Clapper will be nominated is a manifestation of the rift between the Pentagon and the intelligence community – many observers believe Mr. Rumsfeld established the post in 2003 to serve as a counterweight to the CIA. In selecting a close confidante, Stephen Cambone, as the first undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Mr. Rumsfeld only reinforced those suspicions.


Ironically, Mr. Clapper was a casualty of that rift; he was not asked by Mr. Rumsfeld to serve out his full five-year term as NGA director, reportedly for telling Congress he was okay with having the agency’s budget administered by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence rather than the Pentagon.


Now he is being called back to government service by Mr. Rumsfeld’s replacement, Robert Gates, a former director of central intelligence who is expected to work to patch up relations between the Pentagon and intelligence community. With no end in sight to the war in
and on terrorism, and with traditional threats always lurking and new ones emerging all the time, this cannot happen a moment too soon. Mr. Clapper’s pending nomination is concrete evidence that Mr. Gates is serious about getting back to business.