Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., expressed her concern that a recent national intelligence study found that 27 percent of the intelligence community was comprised of contractors. Blair said he would look at the issue and added that interrogations should be done by professionals, not contractors. "My strong preference is that interrogators in the intelligence world be a professional cadre of the best interrogators…[and] our use of contractors be limited to times where maybe you need a particular dialect."
Blair, a retired admiral who served as commander in chief of U.S. Pacific Command from 1999-2002, said that his main focus would be on combating the immediate threat of anti-American terrorism while also focusing on the ongoing campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In his testimony Blair cited challenges he would likely face in the new post, including, "How the United States adjusts to and manages the growing power and influence of China, India and key countries in the developing world, as well as trends, threats and opportunities that arise because of failing states."
Aside form terrorist threats, Blair said the U.S. needed to focus on weapons proliferation, increasing concerns about cyber attacks and drug traffickers who could harm U.S. interests. "We also cannot lose sight of new issues that may pose grave dangers such as global warming, energy supplies, food prices and pandemic diseases."
Blair is widely expected to be confirmed by the Senate. He was questioned about two points that media reports and groups have speculated could derail his nomination. These include his failure to recuse himself in reviewing a research program for the F-22 fighter while he served as the president of the Institute for Defense Analyses and serving on the boards of two companies with an interest in the F-22 program. Blair was also questioned about his contacts with the Indonesian military during a brutal military crackdown against East Timor, which is now an independent country.
Blair denounced reports that he went out of the chain of command while he was head of U.S. Pacific Command and maintained contacts with the Indonesian military. "When it came to dealing with the Indonesians, I was a member of the [U.S.] government carrying out government policy in what I said to the Indonesians. There were no wink-wink, nod-nods from me to Indonesian officers to go ahead and do what you want, I'm for you….That's absolutely flat wrong," Blair said.
Concerning past oversight issues of the Bush administration on domestic surveillance and detainee interrogations, Blair promised to have more "transparency and accountability" if confirmed.
Feinstein, who recently took over the chairmanship of the intelligence committee, said that she wants to have monthly sessions with the DNI and the CIA director on oversight issues. "The difficult problems and the untoward happenings always come to our attention, so necessarily we have to deal with them," she said. "I think what's important is that we have an openness between the committee, between you, between the various agencies, and that you are forthcoming with us," Feinstein said to Blair.