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East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) response to today's hearing on Nomination of Admiral Dennis Blair to be Director of National Intelligence

Contact: John M. Miller, National Coordinator, ETAN +1-718-596-7668, +1-917-690-4391
Ed McWilliams (former political counselor, US Embassy, Jakarta) +1-703-899-5285

January 22 - First, ETAN fully supports Senator Wyden's call that the cables and reports of Adm. Blair's contacts with the Indonesian military (TNI) be turned over to the committee (and we would urge publicly released). We appreciate Senator Feingold's pledge to quickly release Adm. Blair's responses to committee questions. We look forward to reading and analyzing those relevant to his actions concerning Indonesia and East Timor in 1999.

Senator Feinstein, quoting former Secretary of Defense Perry, as well as media reports, have described Adm. Blair as someone who "thinks outside the box." However, his actions in 1999 reflected a longstanding pattern of official thinking that had reinforced the worst human rights crimes by Indonesia in East Timor and elsewhere for decades.  The conventional thinking at the time was to value a good relationship with the TNI above any other goal - especially human rights accountability - regardless of results. Blair's actions at the time showed how deeply embedded he was in the that "box," even as U.S. policy was changing. His actions prior to East Timor's referendum certainly failed to temper the Indonesian military's behavior. This was not surprising given the long history of U.S. military engagement enabling Indonesia's worst human rights violations.

Blair's troubling record on East Timor shows a mind set which places maintaining a relationship with the worst human rights violators over justice and accountability. This sets a poor precedent for his future role in supervising U.S. intelligence agencies. Partnering with foreign militaries and intelligence agencies that systematically violate human rights has been a regular part of the "war on terrorism." This needs to change.

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Adm. Blair, responding to Senator Wyden, said that accusations concerning his actions during 1999 in relation to Indonesia did not come up until 2002. However, the most comprehensive media reports on Adm Blair's actions were published in September 1999 and September 2000. According to these reports, Adm. Blair's approach in spring 1999 was all carrot and little or no stick, and contrary to his statements before the committee today he did not deliver a message that Indonesia's security forces needed to end their violence.

Allan Nairn published an article September 27, 1999 issue of the Nation describing his actions during the previous Spring. Based on official reports of his meetings, Nairn concluded that Adm. "Blair, rather than telling Wiranto to shut the militias down, instead offered him a series of promises of new US assistance."  [http://etan.org/et99b/september/26-30/27nairn.htm]

Dana Priest's profile of Admiral Blair appeared in the Washington Post  almost exactly a year later on Sept. 20, 2000 [http://etan.org/news/2000a/01wpblair.htm]. She reported that Blair "told Wiranto that he 'looks forward to the time Indonesia will resume its proper role as a leader in the region,'according to U.S. officials who reviewed a cable written about the trip. He invited Wiranto to a seminar in Hawaii and promised to train troops in crowd control. Blair also said he would work to reinstate the IMET program and was hopeful Congress would back it. Wiranto maintained that the military was being 'unfairly blamed' for supporting anti-independence militias." Priest does not say whether Blair agreed with Wiranto's statement.

Priest goes on to write that "over the next week" Blair learned of the brutal massacre in Liquica. The massacre took place two days before Blair's April 8 meeting with Wiranto. Initial reports of the attack appeared quickly in the press. [see a  sampling of media reports at http://etan.org/et99/april/default.htm].  East Timorese Bishop Belo, a Nobel peace laureate, held a press conference to decry the massacre on Wed., April 7, the day before Blair met with Wiranto [http://etan.org/et99/april/3-10/7bishop.htm]. The UN, International Committee of the Red Cross, the Portuguese government and imprisoned East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao all quickly addressed the violence.

If the goal of Blair's April meeting with Wiranto was to urge an end to the violence of Indonesia's security forces and their militia proxies, it would be very surprising if Blair had not been informed of the attack beforehand. If the meeting was just meant to make nice with the TNI commander, his failure to pay attention to the most recent events on the ground might be more understandable.

see also Adm. Blair Poor Choice as Director of National Intelligence, Says Rights Group; Blair 's History with Indonesia and East Timor Raises Questions about Likely Nominee

ETAN Urges President-elect Obama Not to Appoint Adm. Blair Director of National Intelligence; ETAN Menolak Adm. Blair sebagai Kepala Intelijen Nasional

US, Church Documents Show Adm. Dennis Blair Knew of Church Killings Before Crucial Meeting by Allan Nairn

see also

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Intelligence chief faces Indonesia questions at hearing

By SHAUN WATERMAN, UPI Homeland and National Security Editor

Published: Jan. 22, 2009 at 10:58 AM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Adm. Dennis Blair is expected to sail through his confirmation hearing to be director of national intelligence Thursday, despite questions about his efforts to strengthen relations with the Indonesian military at a time when U.S. policy was publicly critical of its human-rights abuses.

Lawmakers are also likely to question him closely about big-picture issues -- particularly some large acquisition programs and the shape and structure of the sprawling and sometimes fractious collection of intelligence agencies he will have to manage if confirmed.

Supporters say he is viewed as a forward thinker on issues close to lawmakers' hearts, such as information-sharing and open-source intelligence. In particular, they point to his establishment, while he was head of U.S. Pacific Command, of a special open-source intelligence operation, working outside the traditional military structures, providing daily analyses of social and political issues in the region.

But critics point to a different aspect of his record at Pacific Command, which he headed from February 1999 to May 2002 -- his efforts to befriend senior Indonesian military commanders when U.S. diplomats were pressuring them to rein in militias they armed and controlled in East Timor.

The province, annexed by Indonesia in 1975, staged a U.N.-sponsored and U.S.-supported independence referendum in August 1999.

Blair "undermined U.S. policy in the run-up to the referendum in East Timor," said Edmund McWilliams, who was political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta at the time.

"While we (U.S. diplomats) were pressuring the (Indonesian) military to rein in its militias and stop their intimidation of voters, Blair went out of his way to befriend senior officers, especially (Defense Minister) Gen. Wiranto," McWilliams told United Press International.

Wiranto, who like many Indonesians uses just one name, was indicted in 2003 by a U.N.-backed court in East Timor for his role in the 1999 violence, which cost hundreds of lives before the referendum, and thousands after it.

As Pacific Command chief, Blair's "virtual silence on the (Timor) issue in meetings with the Indonesian generals led them and their militias to escalate their attacks on the Timorese," said McWilliams.

"This is a relevant issue today, because partnering with bad militaries is something we have done a lot of (as part of the war on terrorism) and something we should be concerned about," he concluded.

Blair could not be reached for comment, and nominees traditionally do not speak publicly ahead of their confirmation hearings. An administration official told UPI that U.S. policy was to work "to bring about East Timorese independence and to stop the abuses by the Indonesian military."

The official said Blair's actions were "in accordance with U.S. government policy at the time," adding, "Blair condemned the conduct of Indonesian troops in East Timor, and he conveyed that if they behaved responsibly, the United States was prepared to resume normal relations. If they did not, they risked further negative consequences."

Observers said questions likely also will be raised about his judgment in relation to an alleged conflict of interest during his tenure as head of the funded research center called the Institute for Defense Analyses after he retired as head of Pacific Command in 2002.

Watchdog non-profit the Project on Government Oversight found that Blair had overseen an assessment by the institute of the new F-22 military aircraft while being a stockholder and board member for two subcontractors working on the plane.

A Defense Department inspector general report found he had breached conflict-of-interest standards, and Blair resigned as head of the institute.

But few expect Blair to get a hard time at Thursday's hearing. "I don't think those issues are going to pose much of a challenge," said Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy at the libertarian Cato Institute.

Supporters point to his long experience in intelligence and say he is an "out of the box" thinker. In February 1999, for instance, when he took over as chief of Pacific Command, he established the Virtual Information Center, an open-source intelligence collection and analysis unit. According to a fact sheet provided by Pacific Command public affairs staff, the center is staffed by contractors operating outside the traditional military intelligence and operational structures "to provide a separate, independent view" of regional issues.

The center's products "complement (the) classified intelligence picture; (and) provide key data on dominant Asian press discourse including Asian reactions to domestic and world events," states the fact sheet. Because they are unclassified, they also can be shared instantly with Pacific Command's international partners.

The center's four contractors use non-military Internet accounts "to allow access to Web sites that block .mil accounts and to facilitate communications with non-government entities," the fact sheet says.

But the questions that are likely to concern senators on the Intelligence Committee relate to big challenges Blair will face in his new job, according to a staffer who asked for anonymity.

"There will be bigger questions for the (director of national intelligence) related to whether our intelligence structure is suited to our current needs," said the staffer, adding that the recently overhauled organizational chart for the nation's spy agencies "absolutely" still needed tweaking. As an example, he said, "The way we set (intelligence) requirements needs work."

In addition, he said, there would be questions about "whether there are still too many big acquisition programs that are a legacy of Cold War thinking."

"We don't have a good road map for where our overhead architecture needs to be in the next 15 to 20 years," the staffer continued, using the intelligence term of art for spy satellites, "and that's the time frame you need to be thinking about, because those things take a long time to build and launch."

Several large spy satellite programs have been slammed as overly expensive or less than efficacious by lawmakers in recent years, although most of the criticisms have been raised in secret, closed sessions, with only an occasional eruption into the public domain.

Preble told UPI such secrecy was "one of the top issues that the new administration has to confront. How much information really has to be kept out of the public's hands?"

"The burden of proof should always be on those making the argument for secrecy," Preble said.

Last year lawmakers attempted to push several pieces of legislation dealing with what experts call over-classification, the seemingly intractable pressure within intelligence agencies to keep too much of their business secret.

 


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