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Senator Feinstein Chairs Confirmation Hearing for Director of National Intelligence at Senate Intelligence Committee

-Adm. Blair hearing is Feinstein’s first as Senate Intelligence Committee chairman-

Washington – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, today presided over the confirmation hearing for Admiral Dennis Blair, President Obama’s nominee to be Director of National Intelligence.

Following are Senator Feinstein’s remarks as delivered at today’s hearing:

“I am pleased and honored to convene this first public meeting of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in the 111th Congress. 

Let me begin by saying that I very much look forward to working with this committee, and with Vice Chairman Bond.  We are trying to get the committee to operate smoothly, with the whole Democratic staff and Republican staff working together for the entire committee.

It is my major goal to continue the trend of increasing oversight of the intelligence community.  Admiral Blair and I discussed having monthly sessions, where he will come in with the director of the CIA and other key officials to share thoughts  on what the intelligence community is doing and how well it is doing.

I really want to acknowledge Senator Rockefeller, the former chairman of this committee, who has served as both chairman and vice chairman over the past six years. He has done a terrific job and I hope to do as well.

Finally, I welcome President Obama’s nominee to be Director of Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair.

Admiral Blair is known to many of us from his years of service as the CINCPAC – the Commander In Chief of the United States Pacific Command. He served in the national security field all of his adult life, attending the U.S. Naval Academy and serving in the U.S. Navy from 1968 to 2002.

He worked twice in the White House, first as a fellow, then on the National Security Council staff. He worked for two years at the CIA as the Associate Director for Military Support. And he was named to be the Director of the Joint Staff in 1996.

Admiral Blair has been a consumer of intelligence through his career, as well as a manager of naval and theatre intelligence assets. He’s had interactions at the top levels with intelligence agencies, including his two years spent on the 7th floor of CIA headquarters down the hall from the Director’s office.

I called former Secretary of Defense, Bill Perry, and asked him about Admiral Blair. And here’s what he said: ‘I appointed him to the Joint Chiefs when he was a two-star. And he was one of those who could think outside of the box.’  I think that that is a real compliment.

If confirmed, Admiral Blair will become the nation’s third Director of National Intelligence, following Ambassador John Negroponte and Admiral Mike McConnell. Now, let me just stress this: As one who actually put forward the first DNI legislation, the role of the DNI is to be the leader of the 16 intelligence agencies that make up the intelligence community.

The law creating the position, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, gives the DNI three principle responsibilities:

  • He is the head of the intelligence community. 
  • He is the principal advisor to the president, the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Counsel for intelligence matters related to national security. 
  • And he is in charge of overseeing and directing the implementation of the national intelligence program, which means he controls the intelligence budget.

The position of the Director of National Intelligence was created so there would be a single leader of the 16 agencies that make up the community. To see that the stovepipes that characterized the pre-9/11 world are done away with.

The intent was to create an executive with budget and policy authority. He would assure that the intelligence community provides the president, the Congress and other policymakers with accurate, actionable intelligence. That’s a substantial challenge that Admiral Blair, if confirmed, will face.

There is a need for intelligence on what is going on around the world. A world that’s grown more complicated due to the rise of asymmetric warfare and the growth of a rigid fanaticism.

To make matters more difficult, the credibility of intelligence analysis was severely damaged by the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. This must never happen again. And it is my main goal to see that all systems are in place to prevent it from ever happening again.

Also, the legality and morality of intelligence operations were thrown into doubt by warrantless wiretapping and the use of coercive interrogation techniques.

In my view, the president is taking necessary action today, in introducing executive orders to close Guantanamo and end CIA coercive interrogation practices.

I also appreciate the steps the new administration is taking to discuss the matters with me and with the committee. Yesterday, the president’s counsel came before the committee and briefed us on these prospective executive orders. So I hope it signals a new day in having an open and cooperative relationship between these branches of government.

From my review of your record Admiral Blair, I’m hopeful you will be an effective leader for the intelligence community in meeting these challenges. I trust that you will be part of an administration that will restore the partnership of the executive and legislative branches, ensuring the national security and keeping our country safe and strong.

With that I turn to the vice chairman and the former chairman for their remarks.”