Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, the nation's top-ranking intelligence officer, resigned on Thursday, partly because no one liked him very much, and partly because no one really knows what his job even entails. Welcome to Washington, D.C.!
It hasn't been a great year for Admiral Dennis Blair (Ret.), our nation's outgoing Director of National Intelligence. Why? Mostly because he tried to do his job. For example: He noticed in his job description that the director of the CIA answers to him. So he assumed that CIA Director Leon Panetta would be fine with him naming CIA station chiefs in foreign countries. Oops! Panetta was, um, not really fine with that. And you don't fuck with Leon Panetta, ever, because he is owed a favor by half of D.C.
Oh, and also, Blair tried to nominate Ambassador Chas Freeman to the National Intelligence Committee. Which makes sense, because Freeman is an expert on China and the Middle East, and is a strong independent voice. Until you find out that Chas Freeman criticized Israel, and then you know he is not to be trusted and in the Saudis' pocket and so forth.
The thing is, though, Blair was probably screwed from the start, since he was dumb enough to take one of the worst jobs in Washington. No one has ever figured out what the DNI is supposed to do, really. The position has no real power over the members of the intelligence community. It can't cut budgets or fire personnel, and all of the agency heads still report directly to the president.
It has no real power at all! It is a fancy little idea that so far hasn't changed much about how the big intelligence bureaucracies work, except that it gives Congress someone new to kick around whenever a halfwit tries and fails to blow up a plane, or Times Square. Who knows: Maybe, with the strong backing of the president, a good leader in the DNI position could actually effect some kind of change. Dennis Blair did not have the strong backing of the president.