Obama announces Panetta and Blair for intel posts

“Good intelligence is not a luxury – it is a necessity,” President-elect Obama said this morning as he announced Admiral Dennis Blair as his choice to be Director of National Intelligence and Leon Panetta as his choice to lead the Central Intelligence Agency.

“Here in Washington….We have learned that to make pragmatic policy choices, we must insist on assessments grounded solely in the facts, and not seek information to suit any ideological agenda,” President-elect Obama said. “To support those who carry out our intelligence mission, we must give them the resources they need and the clear guidance they deserve. And we know that to be truly secure, we must adhere to our values as vigilantly as we protect our safety – with no exceptions. I am confident that Dennis Blair and Leon Panetta are the right leaders to advance the work of our intelligence community.”

You can read the full text of President-elect Obama’s announcement and see pictures and video below.


High-resolution, .mp4 format available here.
Remarks of President-Elect Barack Obama - As prepared for delivery
Announcement of Intelligence Team
January 9, 2009
Washington, D.C.

Before I discuss today’s announcement, I’d like to say a few words about the latest jobs numbers that we received this morning.

Yesterday, I spoke about the need to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan so that we can jumpstart job creation, invest in our future, and lay a foundation for long-term economic growth. This morning, we received a stark reminder of how urgently action is needed.

524,000 jobs were lost in December across nearly all major American industries. That means that our economy lost jobs in all 12 months of 2008, and that the nearly 2.6 million jobs lost last year amount to the single worst year of job loss since World War II. The unemployment rate is now over 7 percent. Clearly, the situation is dire, it is deteriorating, and it demands urgent and dramatic action.

My staff and I have been engaged in a constructive dialogue with members of Congress over the last few days and weeks about my American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan which will save or create at least 3 million jobs, and make long-term investments in the critical areas of energy, health care and education. We have made good progress in these consultations, and I look forward to working closely with Congress to shape legislation that will work for the American people.

But let me be clear: today’s jobs report only underscores the need for us to move forward with a sense of urgency and common purpose. Behind each and every one of those millions of jobs lost there are workers and families who are counting on us as they struggle to pay the bills or stay in their homes. There are American dreams that are being deferred and that risk being denied. There is a devastating economic crisis that will become more and more difficult to contain with time. For the sake of our economy and our people, this is the moment to act, and to act without delay.

Now I’d like to say a few words about today’s appointments. Over the past few weeks, Vice President-Elect Biden and I have been working with our national security appointees so that we’re ready to hit the ground running on January 20th. Today, I’m pleased to complete our team by announcing my choices to lead the intelligence community and the CIA.

It is hard to overstate the importance of good intelligence in the 21st century.  When much of our intelligence community was founded, it was focused on one overarching threat: the Soviet Union. Today, we face a world of unconventional challenges – from the spread of stateless terrorist networks and weapons of mass destruction, to the grave dangers posed by failed states and rogue regimes.

As we learned on 9/11, we are not protected by the distance of an ocean or the ability to deter an enemy. There is no margin for error. To keep our people safe, we must seamlessly collect, analyze, share, and act on information with a sense of urgency. This requires the selfless services of countless patriots, and the skillful management of our sixteen intelligence agencies. Good intelligence is not a luxury – it is a necessity.

The men and women of the intelligence community have been on the front lines in this world of new and evolving dangers. They have served in the shadows, saved American lives, advanced our interests, and earned the respect of a grateful nation. There have been sound reforms and many successes to build on over the last several years.

But here in Washington, we have also learned some tough lessons. We have learned that to make pragmatic policy choices, we must insist on assessments grounded solely in the facts, and not seek information to suit any ideological agenda. To support those who carry out our intelligence mission, we must give them the resources they need and the clear guidance they deserve. And we know that to be truly secure, we must adhere to our values as vigilantly as we protect our safety – with no exceptions.

I am confident that Dennis Blair and Leon Panetta are the right leaders to advance the work of our intelligence community. They are public servants with unquestioned integrity, broad experience, strong management skills, and the core pragmatism we need in dangerous times. Together, they will form a team that is uniquely qualified to continue the good work that is being done, while making the changes we need to stay ahead of nimble threats and sustain the trust of the American people.  

Admiral Dennis Blair has seen the diverse uses of intelligence from many different perspectives. Over several decades in uniform, he learned firsthand the necessity of good intelligence for our men and women in uniform. As Commander of US forces in the Pacific, he developed a deep understanding of the critical importance of Asia, and carried out a major offensive against violent extremists. And as a former NSC staffer and the first Associate Director of Central Intelligence for Military Support, he is uniquely qualified to build bridges of cooperation among our national security institutions.

As DNI, Dennis will be the leader and manager of our intelligence community. He will have my full support as he develops our capabilities, strengthens information sharing, enhances cooperation with foreign governments, and provides policymakers with the information we need – even if it’s not always the information we want. As someone who has handled intelligence as a sailor at sea and strategic thinker in Washington, he will have the expertise and authority to ensure that our sixteen intelligence agencies act with unity of effort and purpose.

Admiral Blair’s experience will be exceptionally complemented by Leon Panetta, my choice to be director of the CIA. Leon is one of the finest public servants of our time, and has committed himself to his country since he put on the uniform of the US Army. As a Congressman, OMB Director, and White House Chief of Staff, he has unparalleled experience in making the institutions of government work better for the American people. He has handled intelligence daily at the very highest levels, and time and again he has demonstrated sound judgment, grace under fire, and complete integrity.

Let me be clear: in Leon Panetta, the Agency will have a director who has my complete trust and substantial clout. He will be a strong manager and a strong advocate for the CIA. He knows how to focus resources where they are needed, and he has a proven track record of building consensus and working on a bipartisan basis with Congress. I am confident that he will strengthen the CIA’s capability to protect the American people as it continues to adapt to our reformed intelligence community.

I will also rely on the talent and expertise of several distinguished public servants with substantial intelligence experience. The current DNI, Mike McConnell, will continue to offer his counsel through my Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. The National Counter-Terrorism Center – the hub of our efforts to prevent attacks and root out terrorist networks – will continue to benefit from the leadership of Michael Leiter. And I’m pleased to announce that John Brennan – a close advisor, CIA veteran and former leader of the National Counter-Terrorism Center  – will be my Homeland Security Advisor and Deputy National Security Advisor for Counterterrorism, serving with the rank of Assistant to the President.  John has the experience, vision and integrity to advance America’s security.

The demands on the intelligence community are huge and growing. To have a successful and sustainable national security strategy, I have made it clear that we will need to deploy and balance all elements of American power – our military, diplomacy, homeland security, economic might and moral suasion. Good intelligence work is necessary to support each of these endeavors.

Right now, there are men and women working around the world to bear this burden. We may never know their names, but we will always honor their sacrifice. The task for the team that I have assembled is to guide, support, and integrate their efforts so that we protect our security and safeguard the values that all of us have pledged to uphold. Thank you.

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