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Profile: Dennis C. Blair
Positions that Dennis C. Blair has held:
- Commander of American forces in the Pacific
Dennis C. Blair was a participant or observer in the following events:
A map showing the location of the collision, and of the Hainan Island airfield where the crippled EP-3 landed. [Source: Military.com]A US EP-3 Aries II spy plane collides with a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea. The fighter crashes, killing the pilot; the EP-3 makes an emergency landing at a Chinese air base on China’s Hainan Island, a landing described as illegal by Chinese officials. 24 American crewmen—including three women and eight code-breakers—are taken into custody by the Chinese. The incident is the Bush administration’s first real foreign-policy crisis. [CNN, 4/2001; BBC, 4/5/2001] The precise location of the US plane is in dispute, with US officials saying that the plane was in international airspace when the collision occurred, and Chinese officials saying that the aircraft was over Chinese airspace. [PBS Frontline, 10/18/2001] Some military experts say that the crash is likely the fault of the Chinese pilot, who may have been engaging in what they call a pattern of “deliberate confrontation over the South China Sea, sending its fighter jets to harass American surveillance planes in international airspace.” [Capitalism Magazine, 4/9/2001] Navy Admiral Dennis Blair, commander of the US Pacific Command, supports the experts’ opinion on the Chinese pilots’ behavior towards US aircraft, telling the press, “I must tell you though that the intercepts by Chinese fighters over the past couple months have become more aggressive to the point we felt they were endangering the safety of Chinese and American aircraft. And we launched a protest at the working level. This is not a big deal, but we went to the Chinese and said, ‘Your aircraft are not intercepting in a professional manner. There is a safety issue here.’ So, this was a pattern of what we considered to be increasingly unsafe behavior.” Aviation expert Jim Eckes concurs: “Aviation protocol demands that the quicker plane take steps to avoid the larger, slower aircraft, which in this case was the EP-3 belonging to the US.” [CNN, 4/2/2001] Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) says that the Chinese pilot who died in the collision, Wang Wei, was known to have challenged US surveillance planes before, but this time Wei—who apparently died when he ejected from his aircraft and was pulled into the EP-3’s propellers—“exceeded his grasp.” The Chinese have a different story: “the immediate cause of the collision was the violation of flight rules by the US plane which made a sudden and big movement to veer towards the Chinese plane,” according to a Defense Ministry spokesman. “The US plane’s nose and left wing rammed the tail of one of the Chinese planes causing it to lose control and plunge into the sea.” Analysts from Jane’s Defense say that two Chinese F8 fighter planes “hemmed in” the larger, slower EP-3 in an attempt to make it change course, and thereby caused the collision; one source reports that one of the Chinese fighters was actually flying directly underneath the EP-3. [BBC, 4/5/2001] The aggressive and dangerous behavior of the Chinese pilots is later confirmed by the account of the collision by the pilot of the EP-3, Lieutenant Shane Osborn, who says, “He was harassing us.…The third time he hit us, is that an accident? I don’t know. Do I think he meant to hit us? No. I don’t think he meant to have his plane cut in two and go under the ocean. But his actions were definitely threatening my crew in a very serious manner and we all saw what happened.” [PBS Frontline, 10/18/2001] Almost immediately after the EP-3 lands, Chinese troops board the plane, ignoring a Pentagon warning to stay off the plane; on April 2, US ambassador to China Joseph Prueher confirms this, saying, “There is little doubt they have been over the airplane.” The EP-3 is filled with highly classified surveillance equipment. The US initially blames China for the crash; the Chinese say the opposite. President Bush’s demands that the plane and crew be returned immediately are ignored [CNN, 4/2001; Reuters, 4/4/2001] on April 2, Prueher says, “To date, we have been granted no access to either the crew or the aircraft,” and calls the lack of access “inexplicable and unacceptable.” [CNN, 4/2/2001] On April 11, the Chinese will return the US crew to American custody, but will retain the plane until July 2001 (see April 11, 2001).
The New York Times reports that the Defense Department “is considering issuing a secret directive to the American military to conduct covert operations aimed at influencing public opinion and policy makers in friendly and neutral countries’ in order to stem the tide of anti-Americanism. The Pentagon has considered several tactics it may employ to improve America’s image abroad. For example, the Times explains that the Pentagon “might pay journalists to write stories favorable to American policies,” or hire “outside contractors without obvious ties to the Pentagon to organize rallies in support of American policies.” Another idea would be to set “up schools with secret American financing to teach a moderate Islamic position laced with sympathetic depictions of how the religion is practiced in America.” Several official sources interviewed by the Times opposed the plans. One military officer tells the newspaper: “We have the assets and the capabilities and the training to go into friendly and neutral nations to influence public opinion. We could do it and get away with it. That doesn’t mean we should.” Retired Adm. Dennis C. Blair, a former commander of American forces in the Pacific, says that it probably wouldn’t be very effective. “Running ops against your allies doesn’t work very well…. I’ve seen it tried a few times, and it generally is not very effective,” he says. [New York Times, 12/16/2002] The White House defends the program. “The president has the expectation that any program that is created in his administration will be based on facts, and that’s what he would expect to be carried out in any program that is created in any entity of the government,” White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says. [New York Times, 12/16/2002]
President Barack Obama, in the same sweeping set of executive orders that mandates the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and orders the closure of the CIA’s secret prisons (see January 22, 2009), orders that the US no longer torture prisoners. And in a broad repudiation of Bush administration policies and legal arguments, Obama’s order nullifies every single legal order and opinion on interrogations issued by any lawyer in the executive branch—including the Department of Justice—since September 11, 2001 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001, Late September 2001, October 23, 2001, Late October 2001, November 6-10, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 25, 2002, and April 2002 and After). “Key components of the secret structure developed under Bush are being swept away,” the Washington Post reports. Obama orders that all interrogations conducted by the CIA and other US officials strictly follow the procedures outlined in the US Army Field Manual. Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, Obama’s nominee to become the director of national intelligence, says that the government may revise the Field Manual to include more coercive interrogation techniques; a commission will be appointed to determine if the Field Manual is adequate. Currently the Field Manual limits interrogators to 19 approved techniques, bans torture, and prohibits harsh questioning techniques in favor of using psychological approaches. “I can say without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture,” Obama tells a group of listeners at the State Department. “The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals,” he adds. The US will now “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard.” [Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2009; Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009] Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch says that he is certain Obama will not secretly authorize torture. Malinowski says that while Obama might oversee some changes in the Field Manual, he says that Obama will not renege on his promise that detainees would not be tortured or treated inhumanely. [Financial Times, 1/22/2009]
Dennis Blair. [Source: US Navy / Public domain]Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, President Obama’s pick as Director of National Intelligence, refuses to state that waterboarding is torture during his Senate confirmation hearings. Blair, worried that for him to make such a characterization might place CIA employees who used the technique in legal jeopardy, says instead, “I’m hesitating to set a standard here.” He then says: “There will be no waterboarding on my watch. There will be no torture on my watch.” In last week’s Senate hearings, Obama’s nominee for Attorney General, Eric Holder, said flatly, “Waterboarding is torture.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) tells Blair, “If the attorney general designee can answer it, you can too.” After the day’s hearings, Blair tells reporters that CIA agents who violated internal standards should be held accountable, and that an Obama task force overhauling interrogation policies would examine the past practices. [Reuters, 1/22/2009]
The new Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Dennis Blair, tells the Senate Intelligence Committee that the economic crisis, not global terrorism, is the biggest national security issue facing the US today. “The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications,” Blair says. If the crisis continues for more than two years, Blair says, governments could topple, with all the unrest that would entail. About 25 percent of the world’s governments, mostly in Europe and among former Soviet Union client states, have already experienced “low-level instability,” including government changes, because of the economic climate (see February 1, 2009). Blair also warns of “high levels of violent extremism” as seen during the downturn in the 1920s and 1930s, along with “regime-threatening instability.” He explains, “Besides increased economic nationalism, the most likely political fallout for US interests will involve allies and friends not being able to fully meet their defense and humanitarian obligations.” US allies in Europe are angry over the Obama stimulus bill’s provision to “Buy American,” Blair notes, and says the provision is being used to question the US’s leadership in shoring up the global economy and international financial structure. The biggest beneficiary of this global chaos, Blair says, could be China, if that nation’s government can “exert a stabilizing influence by maintaining strong import growth and not letting its currency slide.” Global coordination is essential to rebuild trust in the financial system and to ensure that the crisis does “not spiral into broader geopolitical tensions,” Blair recommends. [EUObserver, 2/13/2009]
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair says the Guantanamo detention facility needs to be closed (see January 22, 2009) because its existence has done serious damage to the US’s reputation and its ability to achieve foreign policy goals. “Countries won’t deal with us,” Blair tells the House Intelligence Committee. “Our popularity’s down. We don’t have blue chips to trade.” [Associated Press, 2/25/2009; Associated Press, 2/25/2009]
Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that Iran most likely has enough fissile material to make a nuclear weapon. When asked by CNN’s John King whether Iran “might now have enough fissile material to make a bomb,” Mullen replies, “We think they do, quite frankly.” He adds, “Iran having a nuclear weapon, I believe, for a long time, is a very, very bad outcome for the region and for the world.” A spokesman for Mullen later “clarifies” his remarks to emphasize that Mullen was talking about “low-grade” material, and notes that for such to be used in a nuclear weapon, it would need to be highly enriched. Defense Secretary Robert Gates contradicts Mullen, saying that Iran is “not close to a weapon at this point” (see March 1, 2009), a point with which both the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, agree. After Mullen’s interview, his spokesman, Captain John Kirby, tells CNN: “There are two components here: having enough and having it highly enriched. The chairman concurs Iran has enough low-enriched to produce a nuclear weapon, but it’s important to note it’s low-grade, and to enrich it would take time.” Iran has recently tested its first nuclear power plant, using dummy fuel rods that did not produce a nuclear reaction. [CNN, 3/1/2009]
Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate for Iran, and its conclusion that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003, is still valid (see December 3, 2007). Administration officials have issued contradictory opinions in the days before Blair’s testimony (see March 1, 2009 and March 1, 2009). Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) asks Blair: “In 2007, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran said that ‘the intelligence community judges with high confidence that in the fall of 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.’ Is the position of the intelligence community the same as it was back in October of ‘07? Has that changed?” Blair answers: “Mr. Chairman, the nuclear weapons program is one of the three components required for deliverable system, including the delivery system and the uranium. But as for the nuclear weapons program, the current position is the same, that Iran has stopped its nuclear weapons design and weaponization activities in 2003 and did not—has not started them again, at least as of mid-2007.” [Think Progress, 3/10/2009]
The New York Times reports that there is fresh evidence the Pakistani government supports many Islamist militant groups who are fighting US forces. Pakistani support for militants has mainly run through the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
US Pressure Not Effective - Shortly after Asif Ali Zardari became president of Pakistan in September 2008 (see September 9, 2008), he faced accusations by the US that the ISI helped the militants bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and July 28, 2008). Zardari promised that the ISI would be “handled” and anyone working with militants would be fired. Some top ISI officials were replaced, including ISI Director Nadeem Taj (see September 30, 2008). However, many US and even Pakistani officials have since complained to the Times that there has been little effect seen. The Times reports that “new details reveal that the spy agency is aiding a broader array of militant networks with more diverse types of support than was previously known—even months after Pakistani officials said that the days of the ISI’s playing a ‘double game’ had ended.”
The Mysterious S Wing - US officials say that it is unlikely that the highest ranking Pakistani officials are managing relationships with militants. Instead, most of the contacts are done by the S Wing of the ISI. Very little is publicly known about the S Wing. [New York Times, 3/26/2009] However, a later Times article will note, “Pakistani military officials give the spy service’s ‘S Wing’—which runs external operations against the Afghan government and India—broad autonomy, a buffer that allows top military officials deniability.” [New York Times, 7/26/2010] The groups S Wing is believed to support include:
The Taliban. Taliban leaders are believed to be given safe haven in the Pakistani town of Quetta.
The Haqqani network. This is a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban, based in Pakistan’s tribal region. Its leader is Jalaluddin Haqqani, who has been an ISI asset since the 1980s.
The Gulbuddin Hekmatyar network. Like the Haqqani network, Hekmatyar’s network is based in Pakistan but attacks US forces in Afghanistan in alliance with Taliban forces.
Lashkar-e-Taiba. This Pakistani militant group is not very active in Afghanistan, but it has been linked to a number of attacks, including the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.
The ISI’s S Wing gives these groups funding, training, protection, and intelligence. The groups are tipped off to planned US drone strikes and other attacks. S Wing operatives even search radical madrassas (boarding schools) in Pakistan to find new recruits for the groups. Most shockingly, ISI officials regularly sit in on meetings of Taliban leaders and other militant leaders and help decide strategy. This practice has become so widely known that in recent months, the British government has repeatedly asked the ISI to use its influence with the Taliban to scale back attacks in Afghanistan before the August presidential elections there.
Opposition to Tehrik-i-Taliban - Not all militants are supported, however. For instance, the Pakistani government generally opposes the Tehrik-i-Taliban (also known as the Pakistani Taliban), even though it is linked to the Taliban and other groups Pakistan does support, because this group has the goal of overthrowing Pakistan’s government. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently told US senators, “There are some [groups the Pakistani government] believe have to be hit and that we should cooperate on hitting, and there are others they think don’t constitute as much of a threat to them and that they think are best left alone.”
Pakistan's Reasoning - Publicly, Pakistan denies all support for militant groups. But privately, unnamed Pakistani officials tell the Times that “the contacts were less threatening than the American officials depicted and were part of a strategy to maintain influence in Afghanistan for the day when American forces would withdraw and leave what they fear could be a power vacuum to be filled by India, Pakistan’s archenemy.” One official says that Pakistan needs groups like the Taliban as “proxy forces to preserve our interests.” [New York Times, 3/26/2009]
President Obama presides over a deeply divided group of top advisers as he decides whether or not to release four Bush-era Justice Department memos documenting the Bush administration’s torture policies (see April 16, 2009). CIA Director Leon Panetta and his four immediate predecessors have already registered their flat disapproval of the memos’ release (see March 18, 2009 and After), as has Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan. On the other side are Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, and White House counsel Gregory Craig. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has indicated he supports the release because it is inevitable anyway—the memos are the subject of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit—and because Obama is willing to promise that no CIA officers will be prosecuted for abuse. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen sides with Gates. Obama presides over a “mini-debate” in the office of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, where each side designates a spokesperson to present its views. When the debate is concluded, Obama immediately dictates a draft of his announcement of the memos’ release. During the discussion, Obama rejects the proposal that the memos’ release be delayed in anticipation of a so-called “truth commission” to investigate Bush torture policies, saying that such delay would just create further divisiveness. Craig argues persuasively that the judge overseeing the FOIA lawsuit is unlikely to grant any delays. Obama aides later say the president’s decision is in keeping with his frequent campaign promises that he would not only stop the torture and abuse of prisoners in US custody, but get to the truth behind the Bush administration’s torture policies. [Newsweek, 4/18/2009; Washington Post, 4/24/2009]
The White House releases four key Justice Department memos documenting the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods—torture—against suspected terrorists. The memos were released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The documents show that two high-level detainees were subjected to waterboarding at least 266 times between them. Al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002, contradicting earlier CIA reports that he “broke” after a single waterboarding session (see December 10, 2007). Confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times in March 2003. The so-called “insect” technique—exposure to insects within an enclosed box—was approved for use on Zubaida, but apparently never used. Numerous prisoners were subjected to “walling” and “sleep deprivation,” with at least one detainee subjected to the technique for 180 hours (over seven days). Three of the memos were written by then-Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) chief Steven Bradbury in May 2005 (see May 10, 2005, May 10, 2005, and May 30, 2005), and the fourth by Bradbury’s predecessor, Jay Bybee, in August 2002 (see August 1, 2002). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009] Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says: “These legal memoranda demonstrate in alarming detail exactly what the Bush administration authorized for ‘high value detainees’ in US custody. The techniques are chilling. This was not an ‘abstract legal theory,’ as some former Bush administration officials have characterized it. These were specific techniques authorized to be used on real people.” [CNN, 4/17/2009] House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) agrees, saying: “This release, as well as the decision to ban the use of such techniques in the future, will strengthen both our national security and our commitment to the rule of law and help restore our country’s standing in the international community. The legal analysis and some of the techniques in these memos are truly shocking and mark a disturbing chapter in our nation’s history.” [Think Progress, 4/16/2009] Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), whose committee is conducting an investigation of abusive interrogation methods used during the Bush administration, says Bush officials “inaccurately interpreted” the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture. “I find it difficult to understand how the opinions found these interrogation techniques to be legal,” she says. “For example, waterboarding and slamming detainees head-first into walls, as described in the OLC opinions, clearly fall outside what is legally permissible.” [United Press International, 4/16/2009]
White House Condemns Methods, Opposes Investigations - Attorney General Eric Holder says of the memos: “The president has halted the use of the interrogation techniques described in these opinions, and this administration has made clear from day one that it will not condone torture. We are disclosing these memos consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.” Holder adds that, according to a Justice Department statement, “intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not face federal prosecutions for that conduct.” Holder states, “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.” [US Department of Justice, 4/16/2009] President Obama condemns what he calls a “dark and painful chapter in our history,” and promises that such torture techniques will never be used again. However, he restates his opposition to a lengthy investigation into the program, saying that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” In contrast, Leahy says that the memos illustrate the need for an independent investigation. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, points out that the memos were written at a time when the CIA was working to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks. “Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing,” he says. “But we will absolutely defend those who relied on these memos.” [New York Times, 4/19/2009] The ACLU demands criminal prosecution of Bush officials for their torture policies (see April 16, 2009). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009]
Techniques Include Waterboarding, Insect Exposure, 'Walling' - The memos show that several techniques were approved for use, including waterboarding, exposure to insects within a “confinement box,” being slammed into a wall, sleep deprivation, stress positions, forced nudity, and others. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009]
Waterboarded Well beyond Allowed Procedures - Because the information about the waterboarding of Zubaida and Mohammed comes from the classified and heavily redacted CIA’s inspector general report, which has not yet been released to the public, the information is at least in part based on the videotapes of Zubaida’s interrogation sessions that were later destroyed by CIA officials (see March 6, 2009). The CIA memo explained that detainees could be waterboarded between 12 and 18 times in a single day, but only on five days during a single month—which mathematically only adds up to 90 times in a month, and thus does not explain how Mohammed could have been waterboarded 183 times in a month if these procedures were being followed. The memos also reveal that in practice, the waterboarding went far beyond the methodologies authorized by the Justice Department and used in SERE training (see December 2001 and July 2002).
Information Unearthed by Blogger - Initial media reports fail to divulge the extraordinary number of times Zubaida and Mohammed were waterboarded. It falls to a blogger, Marcy Wheeler, to unearth the information from the CIA memo and reveal it to the public (see April 18, 2009). [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009]
Entity Tags: Marcy Wheeler, Central Intelligence Agency, Dennis C. Blair, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Dianne Feinstein, Jay S. Bybee, Geneva Conventions, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), John Conyers, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Steven Bradbury, Patrick J. Leahy, Abu Zubaida, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
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