Blair walks the plank for everybody's mistakes
In the end, it’s the manager who gets fired, not the star player.
And so it was that Michael Leiter held onto his job as head of the National Counterterrorism Center, which was scorched by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) this week, and Dennis Blair, his boss, lost his.
If Leiter didn’t know what the NCTC’s job was six years after it was created, as the SSCI reported, it wasn’t his fault, it was Blair’s.
The fact is, nobody is going shed many tears as the director of national intelligence walks off the plank. There’s not a wet eye in the House, or the Senate, from the looks of the statements coming out.
But the former admiral had been in bad odor for some time, and not just at the White House. He picked stupid fights, and worse, lost.
It may be an old story now about how Blair tried to show Leon Panetta who was boss by making a stab at taking away the CIA’s traditional prerogative to name overseas station chiefs.
Old, but not forgotten, in the intelligence agencies the DNI only nominally controls.
After a messy fight with Panetta with le tout Washington at ringside, Blair lost.
Then there was that ugly business about Leiter and his holiday skiing vacation as the underwear bomber came down on that Northwest flight in Detroit on Christmas Day, setting off brief fears of another Sept. 11 in the making.
Leiter was at his desk in the NCTC, it turned out, on Christmas Day, and only left for the slopes -- a divorced father off with his 7-year-old son -- the next day, at the urging of Blair and White House national security officials, who assured him they could stay in touch by secure phone if he were needed.
Leither was clueless to stay away for six days, but if Blair cleared him to go on a blithe skiing holiday, he should have stood up for his underling as the ridicule grew.
Theoretically, of course, the admiral was right about naming station chiefs.
But Washington doesn’t run on theory, it runs on power, and the DNI under Blair was like an Energizer Bunny with no batteries.
“It’s not an issue of more authority but more support,” Blair nearly whined in an April speech that was billed as a big event but fell flat.
To many of us there, he just didn’t seem all that smart, or savvy. It's not hard to imagine the White House brainiacs snickering behind his back.
But Blair and his predecessors have had plenty of support -- i.e., warm fuzzies -- from their respective White Houses. What they have never had is authority, over the spy agency budgets, which renders them impotent.
In other words, Blair had it backwards.
Even he seemed to know his days were numbered back in April. He’d opened his speech by saying he had “some breaking news: There is going to be a new DNI very soon.”
“Donovan McNabb," he jibed.
Groans and nervous titters all around.
Well, he got it half right.
| May 20, 2010; 6:33 PM ET
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