Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair is resigning under fire.
Mr. Blair, a retired US Navy admiral, had been involved in turf battles with the Central Intelligence Agency, and he had come under recent criticism – including a scathing Senate Intelligence Committee report this week – for his agency’s handling of recent terrorist incidents, including the Christmas Day bombing attempt.
Blair filled a post created five years ago in response to the intelligence failings leading up to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The aim was to coordinate often fractious agencies, including the CIA and the White House office of counterterrorism.
Blair was rarely the bearer of good news. In recent testimony, he had warned of the dangers of cyberterrorism (attacks on computer systems) and of home-grown terrorists. Shortly after that, the failed Times Square bombing, and the arrest of a naturalized US citizen from Pakistan in connection with it, sharply focused public and political attention on that potential threat.
In a statement released Thursday night, President Obama said: "Dennis Blair has a remarkable record of service to the United States, and I am grateful for his leadership as Director of National Intelligence.... During his time as DNI, our intelligence community has performed admirably and effectively at a time of great challenges to our security, and I have valued his sense of purpose and patriotism."
Blair has told his staff that his last day will be May 28.
The decision follows a Senate Intelligence Committee this week that reported 14 intelligence failures leading up to the attempted Christmas Day attack aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 over Detroit by the so-called “underwear bomber.” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from Nigeria has been charged in the case.
Specifically targeted for criticism was the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which Blair oversees.
“Following 9/11, Congress created the NCTC and charged it with serving as ‘the primary organization in the United States government for analyzing and integrating all intelligence possessed or acquired by the United States government,’ ” the committee reported. “In practice, however, the committee found that no one agency saw itself as being responsible for tracking and identifying all terrorism threats. In addition, technology across the IC [intelligence community] is not adequate to provide search enhancing tools for analysis, which contributed to the failure of the IC to identify Abdulmutallab as a potential threat.”
The committee report then goes on to identify “14 specific points of failure – a series of human errors, technical problems, systemic obstacles, analytical misjudgments, and competing priorities – which resulted in Abdulmutallab being able to travel to the United States on December 25, 2009.”
“The attempted Christmas Day attack was marked by several intelligence failures,” said committee chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California. “It’s vital that reforms be made quickly to prevent future attacks by Al Qaeda, its affiliates, and other terrorist groups. The Christmas Day attempt and the recent attempted bombing in Times Square show that we are targets, and we must stay one step ahead of the terrorists.”
“We cannot depend on dumb luck, incompetent terrorists, and alert citizens to keep our families safe,” said Sen. Christopher Bond (R) of Missouri, committee vice chairman. “It is critical we make changes to prevent these types of intelligence failures in the future.”
In response to the Senate report, Senator Blair noted that, “The Intelligence Community is aggressively focused on potential threats, especially new tactics by radicalized individuals. At the same time, institutional and technological barriers remain that prevent seamless sharing of information.”
It’s now clear that a new director of central intelligence will be addressing those institutional and technological barriers.