Dennis Blair speaks on secrets, saving lives

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Landon Lecturer Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence, talked about major events that affected the organization of the agency in the United States during his address yesterday in Forum Hall.

“We’re primarily focused on foreign threats,” Blair said.

Many secrets exist, but a great many are beyond the realm of the National Intelligence Service, he said. Secrets such as how “Lost” ends or who Willie the Wildcat really is.

“Now, you may think that guy in the Jayhawk costume is a different story. But we exist to protect him, too,” said Blair. “Unless he’s a terrorist, of course. Which we believe he is.”

It was with that same sense of humor that Blair delivered his speech, covering topics like the changing profile of the Intelligence Community as government agencies work together and the new landscape the agencies continue to adapt to post-Cold War.

The lecture was delayed and moved from McCain Auditorium to Forum Hall in the Union after a bomb threat was made. Blair, a retired admiral in the U.S. Navy, and a 1968 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, said he thought bomb threats were primarily for exam weeks, and offered to sign excuses for those who missed class.

Quoting Governor Alf Landon, Blair said, “We must face the challenges of new realities of international life today.”

He spoke about three major shifts, or hinge points, that have affected all national security organizations, have been especially important to the Intelligence Community and have created the current reality of international life.

First, the end of the Cold War changed everything, said Blair. For example, in Latin America the focus was previously on what the Soviets were doing there. Now the Intelligence Community must focus on each country in Latin America individually. Colombia, being the primary source for cocaine in the United States, is a focus for the Intelligence Community as they investigate and analyze drug organizations, the government, armed forces in the country and Columbia’s relations with its neighboring countries.

The second hinge point, Blair said, was the information revolution. Internet, e-mail, audio and video, all of it became readily available for use and changed the way the intelligence community operates.

“We can leverage virtual teams of intelligence officers linked together around the world,” said Blair. “The term ‘connect the dots’ is overused, often misused, but it has a large grain of truth.”

The Intelligence Community draws its information from a vast array of sources, from databases maintained by national security organizations, to research papers written in the public domain about societies in foreign countries.

During the intelligence gathering process, Blair said, interrogation occurs, but not torture. New interrogation methods are always being sought which are consistent with national values.

“Maybe we should have Coach Frank Martin go into a room and stare at some of them for a while,” Blair said. “Or if we’re really going for teamwork, put them on the 50-yard line in the Bill [Snyder Family Stadium], have the KSU Marching Band play the Wabash Cannonball and have you all intimidate the hell out of them.”

The last hinge was 9/11. That attack, Blair said, caused a major reorganization of the Intelligence Community, as it continues to adapt to America’s enemies. Blair said he could not promise that the Intelligence Community would be right all the time. A life lost to foreign enemies was a tragedy, but there is reason to keep faith.

“Success or failure shouldn’t only be measured in lives lost,” Blair said. “It should also be measured in lives saved.”

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