Dec 20, 2008

World - US;Obama likely to name Dennis Blair as intelligence chief

Washington, Dec 20 (DPA) US president-elect Barack Obama is expected to name retired navy admiral Dennis Blair as his top official for overseeing intelligences agencies.

Blair, 61, served as chief of the US Pacific Command from 1999 to 2002 before retiring and holding positions on company boards and heading a Pentagon-funded think tank. Pacific Command manages all US military operations in the Asia-Pacific region.

If confirmed by the Senate, Blair will become the director of national intelligence, coordinating the espionage and information gathering activities of the nation's 16 intelligence organisations.

Those include the Central Investigative Agency (CIA), the Defence Intelligence Agency and the super secretive National Security Agency, as well as outfits in the army, navy, air force, state department and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Several US media outlets reported Friday that Blair was the pick. But Obama's transition team has not provided a date for any announcement on the decision and the president-elect departs Saturday on vacation in Hawaii.

Blair would also be responsible for providing the president with daily intelligence briefings, usually the first order of business for a president every morning.

By naming Blair, Obama would be taking another step toward filling his senior national security postings. He nominated Senator Hillary Clinton as secretary of state on Dec 1 and announced that Defence Secretary Robert Gates had agreed to stay in the post.

Retired Marine general James Jones will become his national security adviser. Obama has yet to identify his choice to head the CIA.

Obama wants to reform the intelligence community and could bring fresh faces into leadership positions. Many senior experienced candidates could be tainted by allegations that the CIA abused and even tortured suspects in the war on terrorism.

The director of national intelligence, or DNI, was created in 2004 after a commission investigating the Sep 11, 2001, terrorist attacks found the espionage community failed to communicate effectively throughout the various bureaucracies.

Blair, a Rhodes Scholar, would be the third person to hold the job. The former four star admiral began his naval career in 1968 and went on to command several warships. He eventually rose to serve under the joint chiefs of staff and on the National Security Council.

After leaving the navy, Blair became president of the Institute for Defence Analyses, the Pentagon think tank. He stepped down in 2006 after an internal Defence Department inquiry found he should have rescued himself from two studies on the F-22 programme because he served on two company boards involved in the fighter jet.

The Pentagon probe concluded there was a conflict of interest even though it determined Blair did not unduly influence the conclusiongs of the studies. Blair denied any wrongdoing.

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