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DNI Nominee Blair Pledges New Approach to Intelligence

The New York Times is reporting:

Dennis C. Blair, the retired admiral who is President Obama’s choice as the nation’s top intelligence official, pledged in testimony to be delivered on Thursday that he would require counterterrorism programs to operate “in a manner consistent with our nation’s values, consistent with our Constitution and consistent with the rule of law.”

Mr. Blair appeared to drawing a sharp contrast with Bush administration policies. He indirectly criticized the eavesdropping without warrants by the National Security Agency and harsh interrogation methods used by the Central Intelligence Agency during the Bush presidency.

“The intelligence agencies of the United States must respect the privacy and civil liberties of the American people, and they must adhere to the rule of law,” Mr. Blair said in testimony prepared for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Addressing complaints that the intelligence agencies have evaded Congressional oversight and skirted the law, Mr. Blair promised a different approach.

“I do not and will not support any surveillance activities that circumvent established processes for their lawful authorization,” he said in the testimony. “I believe in the importance of independent monitoring, including by Congress, to prevent abuses and protect civil liberties.”

In an unusual comment from a man who will head the most secret agencies of government, he said, “There is a need for transparency and accountability in a mission where most work necessarily remains hidden from public view.” He said that if confirmed, he would “communicate frequently and candidly with the oversight committees, and as much as possible with the American people.”

On the issue of detainee treatment, perhaps the most divisive security issue since 2001, Mr. Blair called torture “not moral, legal or effective” and said any interrogation program would have to comply with the Geneva Conventions, the Convention against Torture and the Constitution.

Mr. Blair is a sixth-generation Naval officer whose last job in the military was to command all American forces in the Pacific. Though not a career intelligence professional, he served for two years as a senior C.I.A. official. He referred indirectly to the flawed intelligence before the Iraq war, when the Bush White House pressed the agencies for information on the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

“There is an obligation to speak truth to power,” he said, adding that he would honestly present “unpleasant” facts to the president.

He said he would seek an “extremely important balance” for the 16 intelligence agencies, which employ about 100,000 people, suggesting that he would emphasize the soft power of diplomacy and economic development as well as the tougher counterterrorism efforts that got most attention under President Bush.

He said that in addition to backing the military and intelligence operatives in hunting down terrorists, the agencies should support “policymakers who are looking for opportunities to engage and work with Arab and Muslim leaders who are striving for a progressive and peaceful future for their religion and their countries.” (emphasis added)

Wow.  These words point to the fundamental change that was needed.

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Welcome! Who am I?

Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.