Friday, January 02, 2009

Any sign that demilitarization is coming?

By Carol Gee

Under the Bush administration the United States was introduced to several new national security wrinkles, sold to us as ways to keep us safe. Within the framework of a president claiming unitary authority as the commander in chief, the measures included: 1) preventive, or preemptive, war with Iraq; 2) secret, warrantless wiretapping through massive data mining within the U.S.; 3) authorization to suspend habeas corpus and to torture; 4) politicization of the Justice Department; and 5) successfully co-opting the leaders in Congress as well as Intelligence Committee chairmen.

"Hold on Mr. President-elect!" -- What are the chances of the "military-industrial complex" becoming less influential in the Obama administration? There are ominous signs that it may not happen any time soon. First, a couple of personnel issues cause me some concern.

Intel baggage, the DNI and the CIA -- Transitioning into national security competence and being able to "hit the ground running," is not turning out to be easy for President-elect Obama. He lacks extensive intelligence experience, though he did propose that the DNI have a fixed appointment like that of the FBI Director. The President-elect has yet to name his Director of National Intelligence or a new CIA Director. Serving currently are DNI Mike McConnell and CIA Director Michael Hayden, who came later in the Bush administration. Both of the current officials are military men and are willing to stay on in their positions. The CIA was blamed for the intelligence failures before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, as the bad prewar intelligence about Iraq's weapons programs. The CIA was also involved in the rendition of captured terrorism suspects to countries known to use torture, secret prisons all over the world for high-level captives, as well as the use of torture in interrogations. According to a recent (12/3/08) Washington Post analysis by by Joby Warrick and Walter Pincus, "Experience will be prime asset for Obama's Spy Chiefs." To quote:

President-elect Barack Obama faces a dilemma in selecting his top intelligence advisers: finding experienced leaders who understand the challenges facing the various U.S. intelligence agencies -- but who are untainted by the controversies and problems that have plagued the intelligence apparatus during the Bush era.

. . . Prominent voices in the intelligence community and the Obama camp have argued that a seasoned professional is needed when the country is waging two wars and a campaign against terrorism, and that a newcomer would face an excessively steep learning curve.

Pincus cont'd:

[DNI] Mike McConnell warned against yet another structural overhaul for a community that has been the subject of 41 high-level studies since 1946

. . . The creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in 2004 was in part an attempt to forge a clear chain of command; yet the restructuring has led to new squabbling over turf and control over the intelligence community's budget, which currently totals $47.5 billion. Some independent experts have argued that the office is an unneeded layer of bureaucracy, and many in Congress have called for reducing its size.

. . . While acknowledging that reforms are still needed, intelligence officials expressed concern that reformers could inadvertently reverse hard-won progress achieved over the past three years. . . . "For the first time, there's someone who wakes up each morning and has the interest of the entire intelligence community as his No. 1 job," office spokesman Richard Willing said.

. . . Other frequently mentioned candidates for top intelligence posts in the Obama administration include retired Navy Adm. Dennis C. Blair, seen as a favorite for director of national intelligence; Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), formerly the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee; and John Hamre, a former deputy defense secretary who is also considered a candidate to eventually succeed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, whom Obama has nominated to remain at the Pentagon.

In related matters, 1) This comes from Glenn Greenwald at (11/26/08): "Exceptional news: John Brennan won't be CIA Director or DNI." And 2) This was by Jeff Stein from CQ Politics (12/5/08): "Send Dollar Bill to the CIA" To quote:

The former New Jersey Democratic senator (1979-97), presidential candidate and NBA star — so named for the $500,000 contract the Princeton grad and Rhodes scholar landed with the New York Knicks — impressed many a CIA official when he served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI).

“I distinctly remember briefing Bradley on counterintelligence and other intelligence matters and being blown away by how serious, informed, and supportive he was,” James Olson, a former head of CIA counterintelligence now teaching at Texas A&M, said by e-mail.

People are betting that this will be the headline when President-elect Obama names his new Director of National Intelligence: "The New Team: Dennis C. Blair." I am ready to accept this news because Blair would, in my opinion, be a huge improvement over Admiral McConnell, whom I believe has become deeply compromised under Bush. The story comes originally from the New York Times author Mark Mazzetti and it was published November 22, 2008. It is one of a series of profiles of potential members of the Obama administration. A former four-star Admiral, Blair was in the Navy for 34 years, with much of his work in the intelligence field. Born Feb. 4, 1947, in Kittery, Me., Blair graduated from Annapolis. In addition to being a high achiever, "a workaholic," and an avid fisherman, he is married, with two grown children, a son and a daughter. He worked at the Central Intelligence Agency and served on the National Security Council. He also directed the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, and, to quote,
. . . commanded the Kitty Hawk Battle Group and the destroyer Cochrane. In civilian life, Mr. Blair was president of the Institute for Defense Analyses, a nonprofit largely financed by the federal government to analyze national security issues for the Pentagon, from 2003 to 2006.

Admiral Blair was an occasional adviser to Mr. Obama in the Senate, but the relationship was short and it did not include being a close adviser during the campaign. He is close to the Clintons, however; he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford with Bill Clinton. He is very smart, an Asia expert and evidently a good leader. He commanded the U.S. Pacific fleet and, to quote,
. . . is considered adept at running sprawling organizations, seemingly a prerequisite for heading an office that is still grappling with the task of fusing 16 spy agencies.

. . . In his own words: ''The use of large-scale military force in volatile regions of underdeveloped countries is difficult to do right, has major unintended consequences and rarely turns out to be quick, effective, controlled and short lived.'' (Congressional testimony, Nov. 7, 2007)

Mazzetti reports that Blair "carries as baggage," quote:

Had to step down as president of the Institute for Defense Analyses amid concerns that his positions on several corporate boards constituted a conflict of interest. The Pentagon's inspector general later concluded that he had violated the institute's conflict-of-interest standards by serving on the board of a military contractor working on the Air Force F-22 jet while the institute was evaluating the program for the Pentagon.* The inspector general found, however, that Mr. Blair did not influence the organization's analysis of the F-22 program. Another possible hindrance: The selection of a retired admiral to the national intelligence post could fuel worries about the militarization of intelligence. . .

[*see] Correction: November 26, 2008, Wednesday A brief profile on Monday about Dennis C. Blair, who is among the candidates for top positions in the Obama administration, gave an incomplete description of findings by the Pentagon inspector general's office on his role as president of the Institute for Defense Analyses, which conducts research for the Defense Department. While the office concluded that Mr. Blair had violated the institute's conflict of interest standards by serving on the board of a military contractor working on the F-22 fighter program while the plane was under evaluation by the institute, it also found that he had not influenced the institute's analysis of the program.

Mazzetti added that Blair speaks Russian, and that "he was in the same Naval Academy graduating class as Oliver North and Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. He was passed over for chairman of the Joint Chiefs by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who considered him too independent and was wary of his views on engagement in Asia."

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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  • Man, talk about extremes ... mentioning Jim Webb and ollie north in the same context ... one [the former] a true American hero and patriot; the other [the later], a traitor to his oath and one who put his president, political policy and his party before his country and the Constitution !

    That said ... Adm. Blair seems a most reasonable choice ... he has the intelligence, background, and managerial ability for the job [as almost impossible as it is as currently structured]; however, that said, there are other possibilities if one looks below the obvious ... why not select a career intelligence expert [Richard Clark comes immediately to mind] or Gen. Wes Clark], as well as others already in the system !

    By Blogger USNA Ancient, at 3:11 AM  

  • I think Adm. Blair's independence is a trait that could support the Constitution. And I appreciate your ideas of the two Clarks. Anybody but McConnell.

    By Blogger Carol Gee, at 6:35 AM  

  • No mention of Admiral Blair's bypassing the wishes of Congress in giving Indonesia, via General Wiranto, the implicit go ahead to continue their attacks and massacres in East Timor in the late 90's? More than a third of the East Timor population was killed. Proportionally worse than Pol Pot's massacres. Maybe people have forgotten...

    Read about it here in a Sept 1999 issue of the Nation. The author himself had been badly beaten by the Indonesian militia while covering the story.

    At a time when our country's international face is already so irretrievably stained by our dismal record on human rights, I would think this would be a robust area of debate regarding any appointment of Adm. Blair. Especially to such a vital post as DNI at such a critical juncture.

    And I agree with the former poster about the "Clarks" as appointees. Wes Clark would be an exemplary choice for any number of posts and Richard Clarke as well.

    ms in la

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:24 PM  

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