- The Washington Times - Friday, January 9, 2009

President-elect Barack Obama rounded out his national security team Friday with choices for the nation’s top intelligence posts, saying he would use diplomacy and military might to keep the nation safe amid “huge and growing” demands.

Mr. Obama named Dennis Blair as Director of National Intelligence to oversee the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies and Leon Panetta to lead the Central Intelligence Agency.

He said the nation faces the threats of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, and learned on Sept. 11, 2001, that “we are not protected by the distance of an ocean.”

Under his administration, “we must seamlessly collect, analyze, share and act on information with a sense of urgency,” he said, adding later assurances that torture would not be an option when he is president.

“Under my administration, the United States does not torture,” he said.

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Mr. Obama also said intelligence agencies must not seek information “to suit any ideological agenda.”

Mr. Panetta, a former congressman who also was White House chief of staff for President Clinton, said he was committed to “closely” consulting with Congress “to win the war on terror.”

He also promised to provide Mr. Obama with “the most accurate and objective intelligence that you need to lead this nation at a time of great peril but also of great opportunity,” and added he will always strive “to seek and to speak the truth.”

The Panetta choice leaked earlier this week caused friction with some senior Senate Democrats who were angered they were not consulted.

Senate Intelligence panel Chairman Dianne Feinstein of California said the tiff is “behind us,” following a personal call with the president-elect and Vice President-elect Joe Biden.

Mr. Obama noted that Mr. Panetta dealt with intelligence in daily briefings “at the very highest levels,” and said his pick has “my complete trust and substantial clout.”

Mr. Blair said he will make sure Mr. Obama has “timely, accurate and relevant intelligence … [to] keep this nation safe and help you make informed decisions.”

Mr. Obama also announced he has chosen former National Counter Terrorism Center leader John Brennan as his homeland security adviser and deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism, a post with the title assistant to the president that is not subject to Senate confirmation.

He said the current DNI, Mike McConnell, will serve as an adviser on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and Michael Leiter will remain the leader of the National Counter-Terrorism Center.

At the start of the press conference Mr. Obama said the unemployment figures that show the economy lost jobs in each month of 2008 underscore the “urgent need for action” and the swift passage of his jobs creation and economic stimulus plan.

The press questions mostly focused on the economy.

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