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Thoughts on Blair v Panetta

June 9, 2009

The New York Times today reported on the latest food fight between the ODNI and the CIA:

On May 19, Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, sent a classified memorandum announcing that his office would use its authority to select the top American spy in each country overseas.

imagesOne day later, Leon E. Panetta, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, sent a dispatch of his own. Ignore Mr. Blair’s message, Mr. Panetta wrote to agency employees; the C.I.A. was still in charge overseas, a role that C.I.A. station chiefs had jealously guarded for decades.

It remains unclear who will win, but Blair might get his way, in the end, after a lot of kicking and screaming — because of a few reasons:
180px-Dennis_Blair1.  Admiral Dennis Blair is a career military man with long experience with national security affairs — he probably knows where most of the proverbial skeletons are buried.  Leon Panetta, on the other hand, is a Democratic king-maker — a tough position, but one with not as much experience in handling day-to-day national security affairs as Blair.  Panetta is a bit outgunned on this one.
2.  Blair and NSA Jim Jones have been pals for years.  According to the same article:
Mr. Blair, a retired admiral, also has known General Jones for years, as the two men ascended to the military’s highest ranks during the same period.
Given one of the most powerful forces in government is inertia, real changes (absent a major shift in policy behavior, or a 9/11 style- event that shakes things up) might be a decades-long process.  And the ODNI, despite being around for less than 5 years, have a lot of issues and problems to work through.  Finally, it remains unclear whether changing the hierarchy is a good thing, or will lead to more confusion.   However, if Blair gets his way, we might see a real reorganization of US overseas capabilities in the next few years.
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