Facing a Rift, U.S. Spy Chief to Step Down

Discussion in 'Americas' started by ajtr, May 22, 2010.

  1. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    Facing a Rift, U.S. Spy Chief to Step Down


    WASHINGTON — Dennis C. Blair, whose often tumultuous tenure as director of national intelligence was marked by frequent clashes with White House officials and other spy chiefs in America’s still fractured intelligence apparatus, announced Thursday that he was resigning. His exit after little more than a year comes as the White House is facing thorny decisions about Iran’s nuclear program, the future of Afghanistan and the spread of militancy from Pakistan’s tribal areas. It also fuels new doubts about the success, and wisdom, of the major intelligence overhaul in 2004 that created the spymaster position.

    The White House did not announce Thursday who would succeed Mr. Blair, but a senior administration official said the likely candidate was James R. Clapper Jr., a retired Air Force lieutenant general and the Pentagon’s top intelligence official. Mr. Blair’s replacement will be the fourth intelligence director in five years.

    The departure of Mr. Blair, a retired admiral, had been rumored for months, but was made official when President Obama called him Thursday and asked him to step down.

    Mr. Blair’s relationship with the White House was rocky since the start of the Obama administration, and he fought a rear-guard action against efforts by the Central Intelligence Agency to cut down the size and power of the national intelligence director’s staff. He is the first high-ranking member of the Obama national security team to depart.

    Mr. Blair’s departure could strengthen the hand of the C.I.A operatives, who have bristled at directives from Mr. Blair’s office. In recent months, Mr. Blair has been outspoken about reining in the C.I.A.’s covert activities, citing their propensity to backfire and tarnish America’s image.

    The administration has largely embraced the C.I.A. operations, especially the agency’s campaign to kill militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas with drone aircraft.

    Born out of the intelligence debacle before the Iraq war, the intelligence director’s post was intended to force greater cooperation within a hidebound intelligence bureaucracy, and to ensure that America’s spies were better equipped to prevent a repeat of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

    Yet most intelligence experts agree that the job has been troubled from the start, having little actual power over the operations and budget of a sprawling intelligence infrastructure that the Pentagon and C.I.A. still dominate. The vast majority of America’s annual intelligence budget, nearly $50 billion, is spent on spy satellites and high-tech listening devices under Pentagon control.

    In a statement released Thursday evening, Mr. Blair praised intelligence operatives for working “tirelessly to provide intelligence support for two wars and to prevent an attack on our homeland.”

    In a statement Thursday, Mr. Obama praised Mr. Blair for “a remarkable record of service to the United States,” and said he had “served with great integrity, intellect, and commitment to our country and the values that we hold dear.”

    Officials said that Mr. Obama called Mr. Blair on Thursday to ask for his resignation, but that the two men had several discussions in person about the subject this week. Their relationship has been characterized as professional but not close, and some administration officials said Mr. Blair often felt cut out of discussions about important security matters.

    Tensions among the White House, the intelligence director and Congressional oversight committees escalated after a young Nigerian man nearly detonated a bomb on a trans-Atlantic flight on Dec. 25. White House officials openly criticized Mr. Blair and his staff for a litany of missed signals that could have prevented the man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, from boarding the plane.

    They laid particular blame on the National Counterterrorism Center, one agency that Mr. Blair supervises. A report released this week by the Senate Intelligence Committee was particularly critical of the NCTC’s failures to piece together the information that could have put Mr. Abdulmutallab on a “no-fly” list.

    American officials said that Mr. Blair had also angered the White House in recent months by pushing for closer intelligence ties to France, an arrangement opposed by Mr. Obama.

    Some intelligence experts and Republican lawmakers say they believe that the White House has tried to micromanage America’s spy agencies, and there was a particularly tense relationship between Mr. Blair and John O. Brennan, the White House counterterrorism director.

    But Mr. Blair also fought battles inside the intelligence ranks. Last summer, he clashed with Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, over the appointment of the senior American spies overseas. Mr. Panetta went so far as to issue a memorandum to C.I.A. operatives telling them to disregard a directive that Mr. Blair had sent a day earlier.

    Mr. Blair, a Navy officer for decades, considered Mr. Panetta’s move an act of insubordination, intelligence officials said.

    Peter Baker contributed reporting.
     
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  3. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    Beltway domino theory: On the departure of Admiral Dennis Blair


    The resignation of Dennis Blair is significant in two respects. First, it creates a wonderful opportunity for the Obama administration to reconsider the misbegotten idea of the Directorate of National Intelligence. This entire costly bureaucratic layer could be rendered obsolete if only the president chose to empower the director of central intelligence to do the job he was intended to do in the first place -- which is to coordinate intelligence flows among the multiple agencies of the intelligence community and to channel the intelligence effectively to policymakers. Just because past presidents have been unwilling to do this is doesn't mean Obama or his successors can't or shouldn't.

    Quite the contrary, the tensions between Blair and CIA Director Leon Panetta and the degree to which the DNI and his bureaucracy either slowed intel flows and processes or failed to improve them to a degree worthy of their cost suggests a good, hard look in the direction of this undoing of the Bush mistake would be warranted.

    Next, it is the first rumbling of what could be a truly major restructuring of the Obama national security team in the next six or seven months. While Washington rumors are just about as dependable as Washington promises, there is widespread expectation that the post-midterm election period will see several major departures. Among these could be Gen. Jim Jones at the NSC and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. In the words of one senior official with whom I have spoken recently, they have offered Gates "everything but the kitchen sink to stay" but he has been intractable. Given that Gates is almost certainly the second-most-powerful man in Washington -- because he is Obama's most important validator in a policy realm in which the president is extremely vulnerable, because he is almost certainly the best defense secretary in modern U.S. history, and because he is a vital ally to people like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- his departure would be an especially heavy and widely felt blow.

    Indeed, it is Obama's vulnerability on the national security front that makes the changes that are likely to come so significant. With deadlines looming in Iraq and Afghanistan that are unlikely to be satisfactorily met, with the Iran nuclear process itself the victim of many missed deadlines and initiatives that have been or are likely to be unsuccessful, with the Israel-Palestinian issue festering, possible war between Israel, Lebanon and Syria brewing for the summer, unabated terrorist threats, and an out-of-control and unaffordable defense budget, this is no time for a house cleaning.

    Add to the mix the rumored departures of key political players who have had big roles on these issues like Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod and this early tremor seems especially foreboding. Among the rumored replacements for Gates, by the way, we find not only Sen. Jack Reed and former Sen. Chuck Hagel, but because both have chinks in their armor -- Reed is a Democratic senator from a state with a Republican governor (meaning if he left his replacement might not be a Democrat), and Hagel is smart and respected but has a reputation for being a bit challenging to deal with at times -- a new name has joined the list being buzzed about: Hillary Clinton.

    She has Armed Services Committee chops, might like the bigger budget, and many covet her job at State. Also relevant as the games of possible musical chairs go is the fact that Tom Donilon, Jones's deputy, would not only be a candidate to replace him, he might be a candidate to replace Emanuel. This, were it true, would only create further turnover on the national-security side. (This is why I think he is unlikely to get that position which, in my opinion, should go to the guy who should have had it in the first place, former Sen. Tom Daschle.)

    One last point: Denny Blair is an exceptionally gifted man who has contributed enormously to the U.S. throughout a remarkable career of public service. He is one of those guys about whom the glowing words spoken about him at the time of his departure ceremonies will actually be true.
     
  4. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    Blair steps down with “deep regret”


    Obama’s Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair has offered his resignation after a week of tortured consultations with the President, ABC reports.

    Blair informed the intelligence community today that he is leaving “with deep regret” and that his last day will be Friday May 28th.

    “I have had no greater honor or pleasure than to lead the remarkably talented and patriotic men and women of the Intelligence Community,” he wrote in a memo released to the press. “Your work over the past 16 months has made the Intelligence Community more integrated, agile, and representative of American values. Keep it up – I will be cheering for you.”

    "Dennis Blair has a remarkable record of service to the United States, and I am grateful for his leadership as Director of National Intelligence," President Barack Obama said in a statement Thursday night. "Over the course of many decades, Admiral Blair has served with great integrity, intellect, and commitment to our country and the values that we hold dear."

    "He and I both share a deep admiration for the men and women of our intelligence community, who are performing extraordinary and indispensable service to our nation," Obama said.

    ABC reported that Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg had been among those considered to succeed Blair in the job but is no longer in the running. Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence James Clapper is expected to be tapped as the new nominee, the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports.

    POLITICO previously reported that Blair was struggling in the Washington spotlight, and some intelligence officials and associates thought he might be sufficiently fed up to consider resigning.

    A sixth-generation naval officer who did a tour as the military’s liaison to the CIA during the tenure of CIA Director John Deutsch in the mid-1990s, Blair attended the Naval Academy with Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, and Oxford with Bill Clinton — both were Rhodes scholars.

    But despite his impressive military résumé and political ties, Blair lost a series of turf battles, and frequently appeared to have something of a tin ear for Washington political realities.

    He seemed blindsided when his first choice to be chairman of the National Intelligence Council, Chas Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and, like Blair, an expert on China, came under attack from pro-Israel groups and lawmakers who said Freeman was too critical of Israel and too close to the Saudis.

    Last spring, Blair raised eyebrows when he appointed former CIA Director John Deutsch to a panel of outside intelligence advisers, seemingly unaware that Deutsch had been stripped of his security clearances for storing classified information on his home computer (he was ultimately pardoned by President Bill Clinton).

    In September, Blair lost a battle with CIA Director Leon Panetta over which of them should have the authority to assign station chiefs at U.S. embassies around the world.

    But Blair was most out of step with the White House when he told Congress that an inter-agency high value interrogation group that hadn't been stood up yet should have been called in to interrogate Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian suspect in the attempted Christmas Day blowing up of a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. The administration said Abdulmutallab should be treated like a criminal and Blair later revealed that Abdulmutallab was giving information to the FBI.

    In other Congressional testimony this year, Blair revealed the controversial information that an American-born Yemeni cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, linked to Abdulmutallab and the suspect in the November Ft. Hood shootings has been placed on the list of terrorism suspects targeted for assassination by the CIA.

    Some intelligence community veterans argue the DNI position was itself a poorly thought-out and ill-defined post-Sept. 11 reform that Congress never gave the authority to be effective, and that the person who took the job was set up to fail.

    The DNI position “never had the full authority to move personnel around” or budgetary authority over the 16 intelligence agencies the DNI nominally oversees, former senior intelligence official Paul Pillar told POLITICO.
     

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