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Top U.S. Intelligence Coordinator Announces Resignation

  • RFE/RL

U.S. Director Of National Intelligence Dennis Blair had faced increased scrutiny over the intelligence community's failure to prevent a botched Christmas Day attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner.

U.S. Director Of National Intelligence Dennis Blair had faced increased scrutiny over the intelligence community's failure to prevent a botched Christmas Day attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner.

The top U.S. intelligence coordinator, Dennis Blair, has announced his resignation, making him the highest-profile figure to leave President Barack Obama's national security team.

In a statement, Blair said his resignation would be effective on May 28.

Blair's 16 months at the post were marked by a string of intelligence failures and complaints about infighting among the U.S. intelligence agencies he was charged with coordinating.

Blair faced heavy criticism after the attempt by an Al-Qaeda linked group to bring down a U.S. airliner on December 25.

Some of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies under his coordination also were criticized for failing to share information in connection with the November massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, when Nidal Malik Hasan, a Muslim officer and psychiatrist in the U.S. Army, allegedly went on a shooting spree that killed 13 people and wounded 30 others.

Blair also has been criticized for the failure of U.S. intelligence agencies to stop a would-be bomber -- allegedly a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen -- from parking an explosives-laden car on Times Square in New York City earlier this month.

'Losing Streak'

But it was Blair's turf battles with CIA Director Leon Panetta, and Blair's own public comments after the abortive bombing of the Christmas Day jetliner over Detroit, that put Blair at the center of controversy.

Two congressional officials told U.S. media privately that Blair had been on a "losing streak" since he squared off with Panetta in May 2009 over Blair's attempts to choose personal representatives at U.S. embassies instead of relying on CIA station chiefs for foreign intelligence.

Blair issued a directive declaring his intention to select his own representatives overseas. But Panetta responded with a note telling CIA employees that station chiefs were still in charge -- a move that some construed as insubordination and a blow to Blair's authority.

The dispute ended up costing Blair the support of the president's top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, who was forced to mediate.

In the failed Christmas Day attack, the Senate Intelligence Committee found that the National Counterterrorism Center was in a position to connect intelligence that could have prevented the would-be bomber from boarding the plane. As director of national intelligence, Blair oversaw the center.

One senior Senate staffer said it was apparent that Blair had been kept on the periphery of the FBI's investigation into the Nigerian suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

'Difficult Task'

Blair's later testimony before Congress, when he admitted it is getting more difficult for U.S. intelligence agencies to identify would-be terrorists -- did not endear him to the White House.

"As we saw with the recent rash of attacks last year, both successful and unsuccessful," Blair said, "identifying individual terrorists -- smaller groups with short histories using simple attack methods -- is a much more difficult task. We need a multilayered dynamic defense supported by good intelligence."

Particularly damaging in Blair's testimony was his admission that an elite interrogation team, the High-Value Interrogation Group (HIG), had not been officially deployed to question Abdulmutallab.

"We in the intelligence community did not identify Mr. Abdulmutallab before he boarded Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day for Detroit," he said. "We should have."

Blair may have further damaged himself by admitting that he had not been consulted on whether the HIG unit should have been used.

Sources in Washington say Blair's resignation became inevitable after he met with President Obama on May 20. During that meeting, officials said, it became clear that Blair had "lost the confidence of the president."

By law, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, David Gompert, will become the acting director until the Senate confirms the president's nominee.

Congressional officials say several "strong candidates" already have been interviewed for the job.

Names mentioned as Blair's possible replacements include John Brennan, the president's homeland security and counterterrorism adviser; James R. Clapper, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence; and John Hamre, the president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

written by Ron Synovitz, with agency reports
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