Subject: Retired Admiral Blair Picked as Spy Chief, Officials Say

also Obama chooses Adm. Blair as intel chief: source

President-elect Obama has yet to announce his choice of Blair. ETAN concerns are being aired and it is not a done deal yet. So urge others to sign the petition at  - John

Retired Admiral Picked as Spy Chief, Officials Say

By Michael A. Fletcher and Walter Pincus Washington Post Staff Writers

Friday, December 19, 2008; Page A15

President-elect Barack Obama has settled on a former commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific to fill the nation's top intelligence job, congressional officials knowledgeable about the decision said yesterday.

If he is confirmed, retired Adm. Dennis C. Blair will become the nation's third director of national intelligence, succeeding Mike McConnell as leader of the federal government's 16 intelligence agencies. He had been the rumored front-runner for the job for several weeks, as Obama moved cautiously to make appointments to the nation's most sensitive intelligence posts.

"It's definitely Blair," said one congressional official who had been briefed on the selection and spoke on the condition of anonymity. The Obama transition team declined to comment.

Blair would be the second retired naval flag officer, after McConnell, to hold the post. Some members of Congress, in internal discussions with the Obama team, had objected to the appointment of another career military officer to head the country's civilian-run intelligence establishment.

Ultimately, however, resistance to the choice faded as lawmakers were swayed by the retired admiral's knowledge of the spy agencies and his ideas for streamlining and improving the often unwieldy U.S. intelligence apparatus, the sources said.

The job would make Blair, 61, Obama's senior intelligence adviser, supervising delivery of the president's daily intelligence briefing. But his most difficult task would be continuing the process, begun by his predecessors, of integrating the collection and analysis of information gathered by intelligence agencies. He would also be under pressure from Congress to cut the size of his own office, which has been criticized as another layer on top of an already overlapping bureaucracy.

A Naval Academy graduate who attended Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, Blair had served during the Clinton administration as a military liaison at the CIA in charge of coordinating intelligence between the spy agency and the Pentagon. He also served on Clinton's National Security Council, was director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon and ran a successful counterterrorism operation against groups allied with al-Qaeda in Asia.

Described as independent-minded and cerebral, Blair advised Obama on defense matters in the Senate but otherwise had no formal ties to the Obama campaign. Since retiring from the Navy in 2002, he has held positions at several nonprofit agencies and participated in a major study on reforming the country's national security infrastructure.

While Blair is generally well regarded, his career has occasionally been marked by controversy. He was forced to resign as president of the Institute for Defense Analysis because of possible conflicts of interest after it was revealed that he simultaneously served on the boards of defense contractors whose products were being evaluated by the board.

He also came under criticism in the 1990s when his command provided support to the Indonesian military at a time when that country was violently suppressing an uprising in Indonesian-administered East Timor. An East Timor advocacy group has collected hundreds of signatures for a letter to Obama urging him to reject Blair.

"Blair sought the quickest possible restoration of military assistance, despite Indonesia's highly destructive exit and the failure, which continues to this day, to prosecute the senior officials who oversaw the violence," the Brooklyn-based East Timor and Indonesian Action Network said in its petition. "This lack of concern for human rights shows that he is unlikely to be a champion of reform."

While Obama has moved swiftly to fill many top jobs in his administration, he has been more deliberate in appointing candidates to top intelligence posts. Analysts say Obama's caution reflects both the conflicting pressures he faces in filling the jobs and his own relative lack of experience in the area. His task is complicated by concerns among Democrats on Capitol Hill that those picked should not have been directly involved in harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, that have been used against detainees during the Bush administration.

"It is certainly reasonable for Obama to want to draw a bright line between where he is on these issues and where the Bush administration was," said David Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who worked in the Clinton administration. "The Bush administration essentially violated every one of the commandments of intelligence community management."

While Obama has settled on Blair, there is far less certainty about his choice for CIA director. Recent speculation has focused on Stephen R. Kappes, the CIA's deputy director since 2006. Popular with the agency's rank and file, the former Marine and longtime Soviet specialist was in charge of the agency's operations division from 2002 to 2004 and would have presided over some of the CIA's most controversial programs of the Bush era.

Obama's campaign team was aided by a respected, veteran CIA officer, John Brennan, who was a chief of staff to former CIA director George Tenet. Expected to be picked by Obama as the next CIA director, Brennan surprisingly took himself out of the running late last month after critics charged that he was associated with the Bush-era policies, including harsh interrogations.

In a letter, Brennan said, "The fact that I was not involved in the decision-making process for any of these controversial policies and actions has been ignored."

Brennan's action slowed the selection process, according to sources familiar with the transition. And Obama, who is taking his intelligence briefings seven days a week, is said to be using them to familiarize himself with the activities and culture of the intelligence community.

Like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush before him, Obama has had no deep experience with the intelligence community or its personnel. In nearly four years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he had access to intelligence reports and briefings by analysts. But he was not privy to details on CIA or Pentagon clandestine operations, about which members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence are often briefed.

Staff writer Joby Warrick contributed to this report.


Obama chooses Adm. Blair as intel chief: source

By Randall Mikkelsen Reuters

Thursday, December 18, 2008; 4:47 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama has chosen retired Navy Adm. Dennis Blair as the top U.S. intelligence official and could make an announcement as early as Friday, a source familiar with the nomination said on Thursday.

As director of national intelligence, Blair would oversee the entire U.S. intelligence apparatus and be responsible for delivering Obama's daily intelligence briefing.

"We expect the announcement tomorrow," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Blair, a four-star admiral and former top U.S. military commander in the Pacific region, has for some time been considered the front runner for the intelligence job. Blair's nomination would keep an experienced military leader in the post, and he has a reputation as a smart thinker. ad_icon

The current director, Michael McConnell, has indicated he would be willing to stay on. But influential Democrats, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, incoming head of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a California Democrat, called for new leadership at the post and the CIA.

McConnell and CIA Director Michael Hayden have been criticized by some Democrats and human rights groups for their defense of Bush administration counterterrorism tactics, including harsh questioning of suspects and wiretapping Americans' international phone conversations.

Obama has vowed to "put a clear end to torture" and "restore" a balance between security and constitutional protections.

An advocacy group for East Timor this month urged Obama not to name Blair. It accused him of deepening ties with Indonesia's military during his years as Pacific commander, when the country was accused of violating human rights in the former Portuguese colony it occupied.

The Obama transition team declined to comment on the Blair choice, as did Feinstein's office. The position requires confirmation by the Senate.

The director of national intelligence position assumes some duties previously held by the CIA chief and oversees the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. The job was created by Congress in an overhaul aimed at correcting intelligence failures blamed in part for the September 11 attacks.

Blair and retired Marine Gen. James Jones, Obama's pick for national security adviser, served together on the Project for National Security Reform.

The group earlier this month released a congressionally mandated study calling for a national security manager to carry out the presidential strategies and minimize demands for the president's attention.

During a 34-year Navy career, Blair also served as an associate CIA director for military support and for a period at the White House National Security Council. Until last year he was president of the Institute for Defense Analyses, a nonprofit group that researches defense issues for the federal government.

Blair was reported to have resigned from the group over conflict-of-interest concerns.

(Editing by Kristin Roberts and David Wiessler)

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