Published May 25, 2010
There is a long tradition in the Navy that when a ship runs aground, the captain of the vessel is relived of command. It doesn't matter if it was someone else's fault, if the ship was driven ashore by foul weather or even if it was because the design was faulty -- the captain is fired. That's what happened to Admiral Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) last week.
Full disclosure here, Dennis Blair is a classmate of mine at the U.S. Naval Academy and we have known each other for more than four decades. He was at the top of our class, was a Rhodes Scholar and retired after serving as CINCPAC -- Commander-in-Chief, Pacific. A well-intentioned patriot, he returned to his country's service in January 2009, to take on the task of wrangling 17 disparate U.S. Government intelligence entities and ensuring that those who have a "need to know" got the information they need in order to act in America's best interests. What Admiral Blair's supporters and detractors seem to have missed is that he was on a "Mission Impossible" right from the start.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) was a ship that wouldn't float when its keel was laid in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. The goal -- preventing another 9/11 terror attack -- was noble but poorly conceived and executed. Never fully funded or staffed, the ODNI is supposed to "integrate foreign, military and domestic intelligence" -- from collection to analysis to dissemination. The DNI is supposed to run the National Counterterrorism Center and be president's chief intelligence adviser. All of that would have been difficult enough in any administration -- but in the Obama White House it's proven hopeless.
The O-Team decided right from their first days in office to undercut the role of the DNI. Despite complaints from Congress, unprecedented authority for intelligence matters was vested in White House counterterrorism czar John Brennan, Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Blair was reportedly "blindsided" by a Department of Homeland Security "Intelligence Assessment" in April 2009, alleging that "the greatest threat" to U.S. security comes from "right-wing extremists" including "disaffected military veterans." It went downhill from there.
When a dispute between the DNI and CIA Director Leon Panetta over the appointment of station chiefs became public, Blair was offered "little to no support" from the Obama White House. At the Pentagon, concern for the quantity and quality of information necessary for troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan prompted DoD officials and field commanders to "contract out" for force protection intelligence. And all that happened before a series of "intelligence failures" that led to last week's resignation.
Supporters of the Obama White House cite Major Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 soldiers at Fort Hood on November 5; Umar Frouk Abdulmutallab -- the failed Christmas Day underpants bomber; the suicide attack on a CIA Base in Khost, Afghanistan on December 30 that killed eight Americans; Faisal Shahzad, the blessedly-incompetent May Day Times Square VBIED builder and last week's catastrophic suicide attacks in Kabul and Bagram Airbase that killed six Americans among the reasons why Admiral Blair had to go. O-Team cheerleaders maintain that if the DNI didn't know enough to prevent these attacks, he should have. That may not be fair, but that's the way things work in Washington.
Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.) on the House Homeland Security Committee says the Admiral is a "scapegoat." Rep. Pete Hoeksra (R-Mich.) maintains Blair's resignation "is the result of the Obama administration's rampant politicization of national security and outright disregard for congressional intelligence oversight." Admiral Blair, for his part is saying little except that he will "step down as Director of National Intelligence effective Friday, May 28th" and expressing his thanks to the "remarkably talented men and women of the Intelligence Community."
Denny Blair is a bright, talented patriot. He will find other work. But Admiral Blair's departure -- fair or not -- isn't going to fix the problem. The "failures" pointed to by the critics don't reflect an inability to collect data or facts. The breakdown is in getting the information into the hands of the right people who are willing and able to do what's necessary to protect American lives and interests. Unless that happens -- whether it's aboard an airliner or a base Afghanistan -- Americans will continue to die at the hands of radical Islamic terrorists - and the next DNI should be prepared to walk the plank.
Oliver North is host of "War Stories" on Fox New Channel.
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