President-elect Barack Obama is completing his national security team by announcing his unusual choices for CIA director and a national intelligence director who may face tough Senate confirmation questioning over how he confronted the Indonesian military when civilian massacres were occurring in East Timor.
Obama was to introduce the two men on Friday, four days after their names leaked to reporters. That gave official Washington time to vent its surprise that Leon Panetta, a former White House chief of staff with no direct intelligence experience, had been tapped to head the CIA.
The other appointee is retired Administration Dennis Blair, a former head of the US Pacific Command who won high marks for countering terrorism in southeast Asia after the September 11, 2001, attacks. He worked closely with foreign partners to target the Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia and Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, offensives that crippled both terror groups.
Senator Ron Wyden told The Associated Press on Thursday that he plans to question Blair about the role he played 10 years ago in US efforts to rein in the Indonesian military as it brutally cracked down on civilians in East Timor. Staff aides to other members said they would be listening closely to the answers.
Paramilitary groups sponsored by the Indonesian military with US financial and political patronage slaughtered more than 200,000 East Timorese over two decades. In 1999, as civilians were being massacred, Congress and the Clinton administration cut off all military ties.
Blair, then US Pacific Command chief, pushed for renewing relations with the Indonesian army, reasoning that drawing them closer would give the US more leverage.