Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair Resigns

Breaking over the wires that Dennis Blair is stepping down as Director of National Intelligence after only 16 months on the job.   AP’s Eileen Sullivan:

Dennis Blair, President Obama’s national intelligence director, is resigning after a 16-month tenure marked by turf wars among the country’s spy agencies.

Blair, a retired admiral, is the third director of national intelligence, a position created in response to the failure to prevent the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Blair intends to offer his resignation Friday, one of the two officials said, adding that several candidates have been interviewed for the job. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not yet been made.

His oversight of the nation’s xxx intelligence agencies was marked by turf battles with the CIA director and controversial public comments in the wake of the abortive Christmas Day jetliner bombing.

CIA Director Leon Panetta and Blair squared off in May over Blair’s effort to choose a personal representative at U.S. embassies to be his eyes and ears abroad, instead of relying on CIA station chiefs, as had been past practice.

Last May, Blair issued a directive declaring his intention to select his own representatives overseas.

Word of Blair’s resignation, first reported by ABC News, comes two days after a Senate report criticized his office and other intelligence agencies for new failings that allowed a would-be bomber to board a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day. The Senate Intelligence Committee found that the National Counterterrorism Center was in a position to connect intelligence that could have prevented the potentially deadly attack. As director of national intelligence, Blair oversaw the center.

After the airliner bombing attempt, Blair said a new, elite federal interrogation unit of counterterrorism specialists should have been called in to question the suspected bomber, Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

But that unit, known as the High-Value Interrogation Group, was not an option because it wasn’t ready for action. The HIG team was deployed after the recent Times Square bombing attempt this month, administration officials said this week.

As you can see from the “xxx,” this is a developing story.  Dave Schuler and I touched on it at the end of our abbreviated OTB Radio this evening and, of course, everything’s speculative at this point.

But the job has to be frustrating.  As I noted in our discussion, one of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission was to take the Director of Intelligence hat away from the CIA Director.   The problem with that was that it was always and empty hat.  The DCI controlled no budgets and no personnel and was therefore in the unenviable position of having responsibility without power.    The DNI compounds that situation by taking away the power of controlling the crown jewel of our intelligence community, the CIA.

Blair doubtless had more power and impact as a senior admiral than he did as DNI.  And, given that he can easily make a hell of a lot more money in the private sector, he had to be thinking “Who needs this?” every day when he left work.

UPDATE: ABC’s Jake Tapper reports that Blair’s departure may not be entirely voluntary:

For several weeks President Obama has been holding serious conversations about whether to ask Blair to step down and has interviewed candidates to replace him. After a discussion this afternoon between the president and Blair on a secure phone line about the best way forward, Blair offered to resign and the president said he would accept, sources told ABC News.

Multiple administration sources tell ABC News that Blair’s tenure internally has been a rocky one.

On the heels of a number of intelligence failures involving the Fort Hood shooter, failed Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouq Abdulmuttalab, and questions about failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, it was no longer clear that Blair — tasked with coordinating the 16 intelligence agencies and ensuring that they cooperate and share information — still had the full and complete confidence of the president, sources say.

One official tells ABC News that President Obama sought Blair’s resignation earlier this week, but Blair pushed back, hoping to convince the president to change his mind.

That did not happen.

The official says that there were high-profile problems on Blair’s watch and those certainly didn’t help him, but the ultimate reason Blair is gone is because of the dissatisfaction President Obama and the National Security Staff had with Blair’s ability to share intelligence in a tight, coherent and timely way.

This was, the official said, the result of long pent-up dissatisfaction with Blair as the principal intelligence adviser to the president, responsible for briefing the president every day and briefing the National Security Staff. In short, officials didn’t think the briefings were relevant to what the president was focused on that day or time period. They weren’t crisp or well-presented.

At other times, Blair didn’t seem to take “no” for an answer, the official said. He was pushing an initiative dealing with intelligence and other countries, and he kept pushing it even after President Obama turned it down.

Very interesting.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. PD Shaw says:

    I wonder what the record of “success” is with restructuring governmental agencies in response to public scrutiny. From out here in fly-over-country it looks like smoke and mirrors for the rubes. Another example.

  2. superdestroyer says:

    Who cares? It is a position that should be eliminate. Even the White House refuses to give the office authority and gives the CIA whatever it wants. That there is someone in line who wants the jobs shows how people want to work in the White House even if the job is meaningless.