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Dirty Linen Gets Intel Chief Fired

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The Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation of how 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab soiled his underpants with a makeshift bomb over Detroit last Christmas hung out so much dirty linen on the crowded clothes line of the U.S. intelligence community that it was an easy call to get rid of Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair.

The Senate committee's findings released on Tuesday showed the community in all-too-familiar disarray -- adrift with no helmsman strong, savvy and courageous enough to bang heads together to get the far-flung intelligence bureaucracies to cooperate. The report is a damning catalogue of misfeasance and mistakes.

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Yet, given recent precedent, with the intelligence community screwing up so clearly and regularly with no accountability, the Christmas Day fiasco and other recent misadventures might not have been enough to send Blair packing.

Rather, the underpants-bomber fiasco should be seen as the proximate cause of Blair's abrupt departure -- which came without so much as the de rigueur thank-you to President Obama for "the privilege of serving." Truth be told, the White House and the CIA have been out to get Blair for many months.

An incompetent manager? Seems so. But Blair also demonstrated a strain of integrity. And that can often be the kiss of death in Official Washington.

On substantive issues, like Iran's nuclear program, Blair did not show the malleability that is desired by those who are out to zap Iran; I believe it likely that these get-Iran hawks helped to zap Blair.

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Denied His Own Staff

Last year, the hawks also had their feathers ruffled by Blair's choice of independent-minded former Ambassador Chas Freeman to be chair of the National Intelligence Council, without clearing this first with White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. The NIC has purview over the preparation of National Intelligence Estimates and the President' Daily Brief -- the two premier intelligence publications.

Blair's choice of Freeman raised the ire of Washington's still-influential neoconservatives and their allies in the Obama administration because he was regarded as a "realist" on the Middle East, rather than someone who would side reflexively with Israel.

When rumors began to circulate about Freeman's appointment, the neocons unleashed a media barrage, denouncing his criticism of Israel and his associations with the Saudi and Chinese governments. One influential column, entitled "Obama's Intelligence Blunder," was published Feb. 28 on the Washington Post's neocon-dominated op-ed page, written by Jon Chait of The New Republic, another important neocon journal.

Still, on the morning of March 10, 2009, Blair described the high value that Freeman "will" bring to the job -- "his long experience and inventive mind," for example.

Enter Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut who simply could not abide someone in that post with open respect for the rights and interests of both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. By five o'clock that afternoon, Freeman was told by Blair to announce that he (Freeman) had asked that his selection "not proceed."

To his credit, Freeman went down swinging. He made it clear that he was withdrawing his "previous acceptance" of Blair's invitation to chair the NIC because of the character assassination of him orchestrated by the Israel Lobby.

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Freeman added: "The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views " and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those it [the Lobby] favors."

Foreign policy analyst Chris Nelson described the imbroglio as a reflection of the "deadly power game regarding what level of support for controversial Israeli government policies is a "requirement' for U.S. public office."

Schumer led Lobby boasting. "His [Freeman's] statements against Israel were way over the top," Schumer said. "I repeatedly urged the White House to reject him, and I am glad they did the right thing."

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 

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