Monday, January 4, 2010

White House Settles Dispute Between U.S. Spy Chiefs

The White House has "issued a classified order to resolve mounting frictions" between the CIA and the national intelligence director, Adm. Dennis Blair, reports the Los Angeles Times. At issue was who had final authority in intelligence activities, including the conduct of covert operations.

The White House reportedly largely backs the CIA's desire to avoid more control by Blair, but the memo "includes language detailing the agency's obligation to work closely with Blair on sensitive operations," according to the Times.

CIA Director Leon Panetta alluded to the conflict during a recent presentation to The Commonwealth Club, but he suggested that he and Blair had a smooth working relationship. During his October 23, 2009, program, Panetta noted that lines of authority in the U.S. intelligence agencies hadn't been clear in the post-9/11 era. He said that Congress didn't develop "clear lanes in the road as to how the director of national intelligence and the CIA and the rest of the intelligence agencies" interact, and that led to years of conflict. "Having said that, both Admiral Blair and I have a good relationship," Panetta said. "We talk with each other, we try to ensure that we communicate on the issues that he is confronting. There clearly is a responsibility for a national intelligence director for coordinating the intelligence community.... At the same time, those of us who are within the intelligence community have to have the operational authority to do our job."

That interpretation doesn't sound far off from what Blair himself told The Club on September 15, 2009. He said that his job involves "setting priorities, providing leadership on the cross-cutting issues that affect more than one agency."

There was apparently significant room for disagreement within that larger umbrella agreement.

Watch parts of their presentations below, or members of The Commonwealth Club can read extensive excerpts from their programs -- plus FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III's October 7, 2009, program at The Club -- in the new issue of The Commonwealth magazine.


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