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Bye, Bye Blair?

4:54 PM, Dec 30, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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That's the way things seem to be headed. As we pointed out last night, administration officials have been saying (on background, of course) that the president "intends to demand accountability at the highest levels." Presumably, accountability means someone is going to get fired. And if someone got fired for failing to stop the Air Force One photo-op over New York City, you'd expect someone really will get fired for failing to stop al Qaeda's photo-op over Detroit. It looks increasingly likely that that person will be DNI Dennis Blair who, as the Director of National Intelligence, is ultimately responsible for coordinating the country's various intelligence agencies and for maintaining the no-fly lists that were at the heart of what President Obama called a "systemic failure" that was "totally unacceptable."

A CIA official told Mike Allen, "The United States government set up NCTC -- and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence -- to connect the dots on terrorism. If somebody thinks it could have been done better in this case, they know where to go for answers." But keep in mind the context -- a major turf war between DNI Blair and CIA chief Leon Panetta that started months ago over who would control the appointment of station chiefs at U.S. embassies and the chain of command over covert operations. Blair wanted to force the CIA to go through the DNI to get White House approval for covert operations, and he wanted the authority to install his own people, from the CIA or any other agency in the intelligence community, as station chiefs.

Yesterday the Los Angeles Times reported that the battle had been decided decisively in Panetta's favor. Blair was denied a place in the chain of command and he was informed that the CIA would maintain its historic right to designate its own station chiefs. The Times reports that Blair responded with a tantrum:

U.S. officials said the disputes became so heated that Blair refused to sign an agreement brokered by the White House last month. Panetta, pleased with the document, signed almost immediately.

Blair's protest forced Jones to issue the new memo. A U.S. official familiar with the document said it keeps "a direct chain of communication" between the White House and the CIA on covert action but that Blair is to be "kept informed of covert actions and, as the president's principal foreign intelligence advisor, can be asked to provide his views on them."

After refusing to sign a White House order, Blair won the rather small concession of having the CIA ordered to keep him aware of covert operations that have already been approved. Six months ago THE WEEKLY STANDARD predicted a quicker victory for Panetta back in the spring, but it looks like Blair has committed carrer suicide in defeat. Refusing to sign a White House directive not over a matter of principle, but turf, can't sit well with his bosses. And yesterday a "senior administration official" from Minnesota singled Blair out in a conference call with reporters from Hawaii, saying, "[W]hat we want to make sure is that given the multitude of information that we're able to get our hands on now, that we're correlating it in the best possible way. And the DNI plays a fundamental role."

Blair not only sits at the center of the "systemic failure" that led to the Christmas Day attack, he spent the last month antagonizing his bosses and stoking a turf war instead of stopping al Qaeda terrorists from getting on airplanes. The next document the White House asks Blair to sign may be his resignation letter.