The man who asked Chas Freeman to be chairman of the National Intelligence Council, Dennis Blair is the subject of an important piece by James Kirchick in the new issue of The New Republic. In addition to the Freeman failure, Blair’s other problems include: An unworkable relationship with the C.I.A., a history of ignoring orders from above, and (the biggest problem) the responsibility of the massive failure that allowed the 'panty bomber,' Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, onto a U.S.-bound airplane on Christmas Day.
Blair is currently the director of national intelligence (DNI), a bureaucracy meant to wade through the intelligence bureaucracies below it, so that intelligence gathered can be utilized correctly to protect Americans. With stakes high, as the panty bomber proved a couple weeks back, a man like Blair should not have such responsibility. He has proven time again to possess poor judgment. Some highlights from Kirchick's piece:
-"Under Blair, however, these rifts [within the intelligence community] have grown worse. [Blair’s] sworn bureaucratic foe is CIA chief Leon Panetta, who, at least on paper, reports to him. But, when Congress sculpted Blair’s job, it left plenty of ambiguity about the extent of the DNI’s authority over the CIA, which seemed bound to create the very squabbling that the reforms were intended to stifle. Blair has compounded this problem with his knack for stirring intramural controversy. He seems to relish the occasions when he can snatch power from Panetta."
-"Whatever the circumstances of his recruitment [by the Obama administration], Blair clearly had a profile that appealed to Obama: intellectual, a proven history of engaging adversaries, and a willingness to candidly express his opinion with superiors. The latter quality jibed with the prevailing liberal critique of the intelligence community, which held that, in the Bush era, analysts bent their evidence to win the approval of their political bosses."
-"In a sense, for Blair to succeed in this next chapter, he will have to overcome his own temperament. He’s a self-styled maverick, ever willing to prod. Or, as his friend Strobe Talbott says, 'He’s a speak-truth-to power guy.' That’s an admirable quality for an analyst, but it may not be the ideal defining quality for someone tasked with taming a sprawling bureaucracy. To enact the improvements that the president has demanded, Blair must accept a truce in his battle with the CIA; he will need to bolster the morale of agencies that feel trampled, fostering a sense of collective mission. In other words, Blair will only be able to execute this agenda by fighting another turf war—and this time, his enemy will be his own ego."
In short, Blair comes across as a shrewd, calculating, yet unhinged, guy. And after his latest debacle in front of Congress the other day, he might thankfully be on his way out the door.