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Vacant Intel Jobs Raise Concerns Over Ability to Defuse New Terror Plots

Vacancies in the United States' intelligence leadership, including the director of national intelligence and his chief deputies, are raising alarms over a potential "train wreck" of vulnerability, intelligence sources and others on Capitol Hill tell Fox News.

The goal of the national director is to maximize assets across the intelligence community. But the senior Republican on the House intelligence committee says that is not happening because the position, the nation’s top intelligence official, is now subordinate to the White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan.

“The other DNIs have always been very, very professional. They've never been political. Under this administration, John Brennan has politicized intelligence. That's the danger here,” Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan said, adding that Brennan is not subject to congressional oversight as a presidential appointee.

The job opened up when previous Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair was forced out last month after a series of apparent intelligence failures raised questions about the country's preparedness for detecting and stopping new terror plots.

The president's choice to replace Blair is James Clapper, a retired Air Force general and currently the top intelligence official within the defense department, but he still needs to be confirmed by the Senate.

A former senior intelligence official tells Fox News that he believes Clapper would not under any circumstances accept a recess appointment, which allows the president to bypass the Senate. And while no date is set for confirmation hearings, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, says the process is moving forward. For example, senators' questions have gone out to Clapper, and responses could come back in a matter of days.

The issue according to some aides on the hill is whether work on the intelligence authorization bill will stall the Clapper confirmation. There has not been an intelligence authorization bill, according to Sen. Feinstein, for five years, and without one, she believes the powerful intelligence committee is at risk "of becoming paper tigers. Oversight is weakened unless we have the ability to make law based on that oversight."

Right now the bill, which deals with a number of issues, including congressional notification, has the green light from Feinstein, Sen. Kit Bond, the ranking Republican on her committee, and Rep. Sylvester Reyes, chairman of the House committee, as well as White House officials.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- who was the ranking Democratic member of the House intelligence committee when the 9/11 attacks occurred -- says some issues still need to be resolved. Her aides would not be more specific. Speaker Pelosi famously disagreed with the CIA publicly over when and how she was notified about the waterboarding of high value detainees post 9/11.

Though Feinstein believes the Clapper nomination and the intelligence authorization bill can move forward in tandem, others question whether significant progress can be made on both before the August recess. Also, Bond and Feinstein have had reservations about another member of the military becoming national intelligence director.

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.