Director of national intelligence and intell sharing to step down

Dennis Blair will leave his post May 28

Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence whose job involves overseeing programs to improve how U.S. spy agencies use information technology, announced May 20 that he would resign effective May 28.

As head of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Blair has been overseeing programs to make data more searchable and accessible by intelligence agencies. The ODNI has been trying to link the intelligence community’s largest foreign intelligence databases, make data more available across agencies and consolidate agencies’ e-mail systems.

The ODNI was created by a sweeping 2004 law that reorganized the intelligence community to better connect disparate pieces of information across different intelligence agencies. The failure by different agencies to connect the proverbial dots has been often cited as a failure in the lead up to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

ODNI and other U.S. intelligence agencies have come under criticism recently following the failed attempted bombing of an airplane en route to Detroit last Christmas Day. The National Counterterrorism Center, organizationally part of the ODNI, wasn’t organized adequately to fulfill its missions, a Senate Select Intelligence Committee investigation of the incident concluded.

After the attempt, the Obama administration tasked the ODNI with accelerating IT enhancements, such as database integration, knowledge discovery and cross-database searches. The failed attempt exposed the remaining work that needs to be done, Blair said in a speech last month.

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Although the director of national intelligence is the country’s top intelligence official, some critics have argued the position needs more authority. Blair, the third DNI since the position was created, reportedly lost a dispute with CIA Director Leon Panetta over who should have the power to make some personnel assignments overseas.

Blair has publicly emphasized cybersecurity threats during his tenure. Blair recently told a Senate panel that malicious cyber activity is growing at an unprecedented rate, severely threatening the nation's public and private information infrastructure.

Melissa Hathaway, the Obama administration’s former acting senior director of cyberspace who worked with Blair and his predecessor Mike McConnell, said in an e-mail message that Blair understood the threat to the country’s core infrastructure. He also facilitated information flow to the private sector so they could better defend themselves, she added.

“I hope that the next DNI understands what is at risk as much as Director Blair and Director McConnell did,” Hathaway, who now runs Hathaway Global Strategies, said.


About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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