By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Retired Adm. Dennis C. Blair, whose nomination to be director of national intelligence is scheduled for a vote today before the Senate intelligence committee, dealt with some critical issues in a written response to panel members' questions, indicating support for disclosing the annual national intelligence budget figure, opposition to the creation of a domestic intelligence agency separate from the FBI and support for informing Congress when the Pentagon conducts covert intelligence activities.
After Blair's hearing last Thursday, members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence had additional questions. The arrival of his answers set the stage for today's expected favorable vote. The committee also scheduled Leon E. Panetta's hearing on his nomination as CIA director for next Tuesday.
Under one law, the CIA and other government intelligence agencies must report covert operations to Congress, but the Pentagon at times has said that such activities come under a different law.
Blair said that different laws governing covert activities were written during the Cold War and "currently slow and degrade the conduct of operations in the field." He said that some CIA covert activities need military support and that other military actions need intelligence agency cooperation. "There is often not a bright line between these operations," he said, but they "must be carefully considered and approved by appropriate authorities."
He also said he favors some changes to the White House national security apparatus as recommended by the Project on National Security Reform, of which he was deputy executive director. Two changes he mentioned were the creation of an integrated national security budget that would cover all departments and intelligence agencies, and the creation of interagency teams and crisis task forces under the Executive Office of the President to oversee interagency execution of policy for situations such as those in Afghanistan and Iran.
Asked about reducing the staff of the Office of Director of National Intelligence, a longtime concern of the committee, Blair said he would make it a "priority to assess this issue," adding: "I believe that large staffs can sometimes interfere in the effective management of a large organization."
Blair's financial statement, released by the committee yesterday, shows that he collected substantial sums as a director of several companies doing defense business. As a member of the board of Tyco International, he was paid $80,000 in fees and had stock awards totaling $120,000. Two years ago, the Pentagon inspector general reported that Blair had violated conflict of interest rules when, as head of the Institute for Defense Analyses, he did not disqualify himself totally from a study that involved the F-22 aircraft at a time when he was on the board of two subcontractors, one of which was Tyco.
At his hearing last week, Blair said that was a mistake, and in his written answers he said he would consult with the DNI general counsel if potential conflicts or the appearance of conflict arose after he was confirmed.