Why Was Blair Fired?

Why Was Blair Fired?

By Jack Kelly - May 26, 2010

He was in way over his head. But the resignation last Thursday (5/21) of Admiral Dennis Blair as Director of National Intelligence may have deprived the Obama administration's intelligence team of arguably its most capable member.

This is okay with the president. "The ultimate reason Blair is gone is because of the dissatisfaction President Obama and the National Security staff had with Blair's ability to share intelligence in a tight, coherent and timely way," reported Jake Tapper of ABC News.

What may have done in Admiral Blair was a scathing report issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee May 19 which identified 14 "significant intelligence failings" in the case of Umar Adulmuttalab, the underwear bomber, who attempted to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day. The most serious of these failings were by the National Counterterrorism Center, which reports directly to the DNI.

At the time of Mr. Abdulmuttalab's arrest, Mr. Blair appeared not to know that the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, to which Mr. Obama had transferred from the CIA the responsibility for questioning captured terrorists, had yet to become operational.

"A fine naval officer, Blair seemed out of his milieu as DNI, often unaware of basic facts someone in his position should know," said Michael Anton, a former staffer on the National Security Council. In March of 2009, Admiral Blair had raised eyebrows and ruffled feathers when he nominated Charles "Chas" Freeman to be chairman of the National Intelligence Council. A former ambassador, Mr. Freeman was thought by critics to be too close to China and to Saudi Arabia. Mr. Freeman's nomination was withdrawn after questions were raised about his financial relationship to those countries, and controversial statements came to light.

And Admiral Blair lost a turf war he started with CIA Director Leon Panetta over who should appoint the intelligence chief in U.S. embassies.

So why would the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee say: "Blair's resignation is the result of the Obama administration's rampant politicization of national security?"

It's an election year. But the bigger reason is who the president would rely upon for intelligence advice in lieu of Mr. Blair.

"The White House made it clear that it had more confidence in others, such as counterterrorism and homeland security adviser John Brennan," Mr. Tapper reported.

This terrified Mr. Anton, who noted that last week Mr. Brennan referred to Jerusalem as "al-Quds," the name Islamist terrorists use, and said he wanted to initiate a dialogue with "moderate elements" within Hezbollah. Searching for "moderates" in that Iranian-financed terror group is like searching for moderates within the Nazi Party.

In a speech in February at New York University's Islamic Center, Mr. Brennan had said a 20 percent recidivism rate among terrorists released from the prison at Guantanamo Bay was "not too bad."

"Brennan has shown himself to be a man of abysmal judgment, ill-concealed arrogance, and serial incompetence," said Frank Gaffney, a former assistant secretary of defense.

That someone with views as obtuse and naive as Mr. Brennan's could rise to a high rank in the CIA (from which he retired in 2005) illustrates why that agency desperately requires reform.

For all his shortcomings, Admiral Blair was more concerned about protecting the United States from terrorist attack than in protecting the Obama administration from criticism.

The administration got a lot of criticism for how it handled the underwear bomber. Columnist Charles Krauthammer said the president was peeved with Mr. Blair for criticizing the leaking of intelligence information about Mr. Abdulmuttalab in an effort to polish its image.

"What you heard Blair talking about whas how dismayed he was by all those leaks, because if you're in intelligence and you're getting all this information, you don't want it to be publicized in a way that our enemies in Yemen are going to hear about it and take measures," Mr. Krauthammer said. "This was a fairly strong attack on the White House for using intelligence to tart up its political position."

Was Admiral Blair fired because he wasn't telling the president what he wanted to hear?

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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