Obama picks Blair as intel chief

Barack Obama has selected Admiral Dennis C. Blair to as Director of National Intelligence, the super-executive overseeing all of the US efforts at clandestine information gathering.  The choice again emphasizes the center-right “realist” school of American foreign policy Obama has apparently decided to pursue.  One issue could complicate his confirmation, however:

Sources involved in President-elect Obama’s transition confirm that former Admiral Dennis Blair has been selected as the new Director of National Intelligence.

A 34-year Navy veteran, Blair was commander of the U.S. military’s Pacific Command, was director of the Joint Staff, but also worked with the CIA and National Security Council.

Blair served with distinction in the military, but got involved in a controversy over the F-22 Raptor purchase.  For most of the last five years, Blair ran the Institute for Defense Analysis, an independent think tank that advises the Department of Defense on military strategy and procurement.  He wrote a recommendation for the Pentagon to pursue the F-22 Raptor program, but Blair didn’t reveal that he served on the board of EDO, a major subcontractor to Lockheed on the Raptor system:

After news reports about the apparent conflict of interest, Blair resigned as the head of IDA and his board seat at EDO.

Sources familiar with his background said they don’t see the incident as an impediment to his confirmation. But the Project on Government Oversight, which investigated the incident, said it’s concerned.

The Inspector General found that Blair had violated conflict-of-interest rules at IDA, although stopping short of accusing him of influencing the analysis.  He held stock and stock options in EDO and Tyco that would have benefited from the purchase of the Raptor system by the DoD.  According to the agreement between IDA and the DoD, that conflict of interest should have been disclosed and Blair should have recused himself from the study. In the end, though, Blair disposed of the EDO stock and donated the proceeds to the Yellow Ribbon Fund.

Will this be enough for the Senate to give Obama’s pick a rough ride in his confirmation hearing?  Perhaps not, but it does seem an odd pick for Obama after his emphasis on open, transparent government.  Not only did Obama nominate someone from the military-industrial complex (horrors!), but someone who at least inadvertently kept those connections quiet on a major military purchase. Blair doesn’t have the same level of problems that Rahm Emanuel, Eric Holder, and Bill Richardson bring into the administration, but it’s yet another example of a low level of concern from Obama about transparency issues.

Overall, though, Blair is a good pick, and much better than what we might have expected from his list of foreign-policy advisers during the campaign.

Update: Well, you have to love a guy who’d try this (via John Noonan, who worked hard to find the documentation):

Is otherwise known for: Being a cerebral and intense workaholic. Yet he also tried to water ski behind a Navy destroyer while commanding the ship in Japan.

This is the part that will get him the pass from the Senate:

An avid fisherman who speaks Russian, he was in the same Naval Academy graduating class as Oliver North and Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. He was passed over for chairman of the Joint Chiefs by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who considered him too independent and was wary of his views on engagement in Asia.

“The good news is that everyone in the galley gets extra rations this morning.  The bad news is that the captain wants to water-ski this afternoon.”