The Skeletons in Dennis Blair’s Closet


The presumed appointment by President-elect Barack Obama of retired Admiral Dennis C. Blair as his new Director of National Intelligence is being greeted with cheers by the national media, who hail his experience, bureaucratic infighting skills and comparatively moderate views on national security issues. The New York Times, in a recent profile, seemed much impressed by the fact that the 34-year Navy veteran once water skied behind an aircraft carrier, in addition to his stints with the National Security Council, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Institute for Defense Analysis (from which he resigned in 2006 over conflict of interest charges involving the F-22 raptor).

But human rights supporters are right to be worried that Dennis Blair will hardly lead the charge for reform in the nation’s intelligence community after the Bush Administration’s embrace of torture, rendition and other crimes. For in the period leading up to and following East Timor’s August 1999 referendum on independence from Indonesia Blair, from his perch as US Commander in Chief of the Pacific (CINCPAC) from February 1999 to May 2000, ran interference for the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) as they and their militia proxies committed crimes against humanity on an awesome scale.

Following the ouster of long-time dictator Suharto in 1998, Indonesian president B.J. Habibie signaled that Indonesia would be willing to allow East Timor an up or down referendum on independence following 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation. The Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI), hoping to sway the vote in Jakarta’s favor, launched a campaign of terror and intimidation led by the Army, Police and local militia proxies in which they killed hundreds of people displaced tens of thousands, most infamously on April 6, 1999, when militia forces massacred 57 Timorese in a church at Liquica on the outskirts of the capitol Dili.

As readers of the Nation will recall from the reporting of Alan Nairn, two days after the massacre the Pentagon dispatched Blair two days later to meet with Wiranto and demand that he disband the militias and allow a fair vote in East Timor. Instead, Blair offered assurances of continued US support for the TNI and invited Wiranto to Pacific Command Headquarters in Hawaii as his personal guest. According to top secret CIA intelligence summary issued after the massacre, however (and recently declassified by the author through a Freedom of Information Act request), “Indonesian military had colluded with pro-Jakarta militia forces in events preceding the attack and were present in some numbers at the time of the killings.” A Top Secret Senior Executive Intelligence Brief from April 20, 1999 stated plainly that “to restore stability, the Indonesian security forces must stop supporting the militias and adopt a neutral posture.” A Top Secret CIA Intelligence Report dated May 10, 1999 reported that “local commanders would have required at least tacit approval from headquarters in Jakarta to allow the militias the blatant free hand they have enjoyed.” Blair’s performance, which prompted a rebuke by the State Department, was part of a fierce bureaucratic struggle between the Pentagon and State Department and Embassy officers seeking to reign in the TNI’s terror.

Immediately after the August 30, 1999 referendum, in which nearly 80% of Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia, TNI forces and their militia proxies launched a murderous scorched earth campaign, killing nearly 1,500 Timorese, forcing a third of the population from their homes and destroying most of the territory’s infrastructure. Following a global outcry and enormous pressure from Congress and grassroots activists, President Clinton finally severed military ties on September 8, with Dennis Blair personally conveying news of the cutoff to General Wiranto.

By this point the TNI’s – and by extension Wironto’s – control of the terror operations in East Timor was being widely acknowledged internally by both State Department and CIA sources. On September 10 the US Embassy in Canberra, Australia dispatched a secret telegram to Washington reporting in the subject line that that the TNI was “controlling and assisting militia” in East Timor. Yet in Pentagon news briefing two weeks later Blair continued publicly to push the ‘bad apple’ line – characterizing the TNI’s deliberate destruction of East Timor and murder of hundreds of people as “a bad breakdown of order with some elements of TNI contributing to it and not helping it.” He went on to insist that US training of the Indonesian Armed Forces had paid dividends, with “many of those officers who did have training and education in the United States … are leading a very strong reform movement within TNI.” As Dana Priest of the /Washington Post/ later reported, however, fully one third of the Indonesian officers indicted by Indonesia’s national human rights commission for “crimes against humanity” committed in East Timor in 1999 were US trained. Wiranto, also indicted, is now considering a run at the Indonesian presidency in 2009. The clear links between US training and TNI terror clearly did not trouble Blair, who spent much of his remaining time as CINCPAC fighting to restore the military ties to his allies in Jakarta that grassroots activists and their Congressional allies had worked since 1992 to sever, finally winning their resumption in 2002.

Blair’s apologetics for murder and torture by the Indonesian armed forces in East Timor, and his opposition to trials, international or otherwise, for the high level perpetrators of mass violence, offers a sobering indication of the positions he is likely to take as Director of National Intelligence. President-elect Obama’s choice suggests that he will resist – as Blair almost certainly will – demands for the prosecution of high-ranking Bush Administration officials, much less lower level employees in the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency, for torture, rendition and other crimes carried out in the name of the so-called War on Terror.

BRADLEY SIMPSON is assistant professor of history and international affairs at Princeton University and a research fellow at the National Security Archive in Washington, DC, where he directs the Indonesia and East Timor Documentation Project. He is the author of Economists With Guns: Authoritarian Development and U.S.-Indonesian Relations, 1960-1968.








Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
David Price – Roberto J. González
The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan
Mike Whitney
Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Jason Hribal
The Tilikum Effect and the Downfall of SeaWorld
Paul Street
Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism
Gary Leupp
The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st Century
Andrew Levine
In Syria, Obama is Playing a Losing Game
Louis Proyect
The End of Academic Freedom in America: the Case of Steven Salaita
Rob Urie
Democrats, Neoliberalism and the TPP
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
The Bully Recalibrates: U.S. Signals Policy Shift in Syria
Brian Cloughley
Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine
John Walsh
For Vietnam: Artemisinin From China, Agent Orange From America
John Wight
No Moral High Ground for the West on Syria
Robert Fantina
Canadian Universities vs. Israeli Apartheid
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: Europe’s Left Batting 1000
John Feffer
Mouths Wide Shut: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers
Paul Craig Roberts
The Impulsiveness of US Power
Ron Jacobs
The Murderer as American Hero
Alex Nunns
“A Movement Looking for a Home”: the Meaning of Jeremy Corbyn
Philippe Marlière
Class Struggle at Air France
Binoy Kampmark
Waiting in Vain for Moderation: Syria, Russia and Washington’s Problem
Paul Edwards
Empire of Disaster
Xanthe Hall
Nuclear Madness: NATO’s WMD ‘Sharing’ Must End
Margaret Knapke
These Salvadoran Women Went to Prison for Suffering Miscarriages
Uri Avnery
Abbas: the Leader Without Glory
Halima Hatimy
#BlackLivesMatter: Black Liberation or Black Liberal Distraction?
Michael Brenner
Kissinger Revisited
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Halyna Mokrushyna
On Ukraine’s ‘Incorrect’ Past
Jason Cone
Even Wars Have Rules: a Fact Sheet on the Bombing of Kunduz Hospital
Walter Brasch
Mass Murders are Good for Business
William Hadfield
Sophistry Rising: the Refugee Debate in Germany
Christopher Brauchli
Why the NRA Profits From Mass Shootings
Hadi Kobaysi
How The US Uses (Takfiri) Extremists
Pete Dolack
There is Still Time to Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Marc Norton
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Andre Vltchek
Stop Millions of Western Immigrants!
David Rosen
If Donald Dump Was President
Dave Lindorff
America’s Latest War Crime
Ann Garrison
Sankarist Spirit Resurges in Burkina Faso
Franklin Lamb
Official Investigation Needed After Afghan Hospital Bombing
Linn Washington Jr.
Wrongs In Wine-Land
Ronald Bleier
Am I Drinking Enough Water? Sneezing’s A Clue
Charles R. Larson
Prelude to the Spanish Civil War: Eduard Mendoza’s “An Englishman in Madrid”
David Yearsley
Papal Pop and Circumstance
October 08, 2015
Michael Horton
Why is the US Aiding and Enabling Saudi Arabia’s Genocidal War in Yemen?