etmnlong.gif (2291 bytes)



East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) response to Admiral Dennis Blair's Statements to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

Contact: John M. Miller, National Coordinator, ETAN +1-718-596-7668, +1-917-690-4391
Ed McWilliams (former political counselor, US Embassy, Jakarta) +1-703-899-5285

January 28 - ETAN fully supports Senator Ron Wyden's (D-OR) call for the cables and reports of Adm. Dennis C. Blair's contacts with the Indonesian military (TNI) to be turned over to the committee and publicly released. In a written response to a committee question, Adm. Blair wrote "Documents of these events, which occurred almost a decade ago, are not now available to me." Seeing those documents will certainly help clarify his actions at the time. As it is, his responses on this matter do not fit with what is publicly known.

The Box

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), quoting former Secretary of Defense Perry, described Adm. Blair as someone who is "one of those who could think outside of the box." However, his actions in 1999 and early 2000 reflected a pattern of official thinking that turned a blind eye to or even enabled the horrendous human rights violations committed by the TNI in East Timor. The conventional thinking for decades was to value a good relationship with the TNI above any other goal - including human rights accountability. Blair's actions at the time showed how deeply embedded he was in the engagement "box," even as U.S. policy was changing. His actions prior to East Timor's August 30, 1999 referendum certainly failed to temper the Indonesian military's behavior. This was not surprising given the long history of U.S. military engagement enabling Indonesia's worst human rights violations.

Blair's troubling record on Indonesia and East Timor shows a mind set that places maintaining a relationship with the worst human rights violators over justice and accountability. This sets a poor precedent for his future role in supervising U.S. intelligence agencies. Partnering with foreign militaries and intelligence agencies that systematically violate human rights has been a regular part of the "war on terrorism." This needs to change.

April 1999

Adm. Blair, responding to a question from Senator Wyden (D-OR), said that accusations concerning his actions during 1999 in relation to Indonesia did not come up until "after I left active duty in 2002." However, the most comprehensive media reports on Adm. Blair's actions were published in September 1999 and September 2000. These reports describe Adm. Blair's approach to the Indonesian military in the spring 1999 as all carrot and little or no stick. Contrary to his statements to the committee, he did not at that time emphasize "that if their [Indonesia's] troops behaved irresponsibly, they risked negative consequences, but if they behaved responsibly, the U.S. was prepared to respond positively." Nor had his "conversations specifically included strong opposition to violence against civilians."
Allan Nairn published an article in the September 27, 1999 issue of The Nation describing Adm. Blair’s actions during the previous spring. Based on official reports of his meetings, Nairn wrote that Adm. "Blair, rather than telling Wiranto to shut the militias down, instead offered him a series of promises of new US assistance."  []

Dana Priest's profile of Admiral Blair appeared in the Washington Post almost exactly a year later on Sept. 20, 2000 []. She reported that Blair "told Wiranto that he 'looks forward to the time Indonesia will resume its proper role as a leader in the region,’ according to U.S. officials who reviewed a cable written about the trip. He invited Wiranto to a seminar in Hawaii and promised to train troops in crowd control. Blair also said he would work to reinstate the IMET program and was hopeful Congress would back it. Wiranto maintained that the military was being 'unfairly blamed' for supporting anti-independence militias."

Priest goes on to write that "over the next week" Blair learned of the brutal massacre in Liquica. This massacre took place two days before Blair's April 8 meeting with Wiranto. Initial reports of the attack appeared quickly in the press. [See a sampling of media reports at]. East Timorese Bishop Belo, a Nobel peace laureate, held a press conference to decry the massacre on Wed., April 7, the day before Blair met with Wiranto []. The UN, International Committee of the Red Cross, the Portuguese government and imprisoned East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao all quickly addressed the violence.

If the goal of Blair's April meeting with Wiranto was to urge an end to the violence of his security forces and their militia proxies, it would be very surprising if Blair had not been informed of the attack beforehand. If the meeting was meant to make nice with the TNI commander, his failure to pay attention to the most recent events on the ground might be more understandable.

Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta were so upset with Blair that they complained to Washington. According to Nairn, "When word got back to the State Department that Blair had said these things in a meeting, an ’eyes only’ cable was dispatched from the State Department to Ambassador Stapleton Roy at the embassy in Jakarta. The thrust of this cable was that what Blair had done was unacceptable and that it must be reversed."  A phone call was then arranged between General Wiranto and Admiral Blair. That call took place on April 18 (the day after a massacre by militia of refugees from the Liquicia massacre who had sought shelter in East Timor’s capital, Dili). Nairn writes that "once again Blair failed to tell Wiranto to shut the militias down."

September 1999 and Beyond

Adm. Blair did raise the blatant behavior of security forces in September 1999. By then the U.S. was moving to suspend all military assistance. This cut-off was crucial to ending the violence and to the Indonesian military's eventual acceptance of the result of the referendum. In a response to the committee, Blair writes "I do remember well that the reports of the atrocities themselves were quickly available, both through intelligence reports and in the international press....I was the senior officer in PACOM, and was requesting and receiving information both on the atrocities themselves and on senior TNI complicity in ordering them...."

He describes the atrocities after the August 1999 referendum as "so widespread and well planned that it was clear that the entire TNI command in East Timor was involved. At this point it did not matter whether General Wiranto had ordered them or not, they were his responsibility."  If Blair had delivered a clear message of respect for human rights and the need for the TNI to call off its militia prior to the vote, much of the post vote violence could have been prevented.

Blair told the committee that U.S. policy "worked... and East Timor is now an independent country." But by the following year, he was falling back on a pro-engagement mindset and arguing for re-engagement, even though the TNI was still denying its role in the atrocities and actively trying to block efforts to try TNI officers for their crimes. According to Dana Priest, in 2000 Adm. Blair was again forcefully arguing for re-engagement, despite what then U.S. Ambassador Gelbard called "virtually zero progress. In fact, they've [the TNI] gone backwards."

The new administration has a number of officials who have repeatedly spoken out against human rights crimes in different parts of the world. The question for them is will they work to bring to justice those responsible for the war crimes and crimes against humanity in East Timor in 1999 and before.

Finally, we commend the committee for the timely release of Adm. Blair's responses to committee questions. We hope it will do the same with the any documents it receives concerning Adm. Blair's actions concerning Indonesia and East Timor.

see Adm. Blair Poor Choice as Director of National Intelligence, Says Rights Group; Blair 's History with Indonesia and East Timor Raises Questions about Likely Nominee

ETAN Urges President-elect Obama Not to Appoint Adm. Blair Director of National Intelligence; ETAN Menolak Adm. Blair sebagai Kepala Intelijen Nasional

US, Church Documents Show Adm. Dennis Blair Knew of Church Killings Before Crucial Meeting by Allan Nairn

see also

Join ETAN on Facebook

A Letter from Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky

ETAN Needs Your Support!

Support ETAN's Grassroots Advocacy  by Donating Today!

Join others in supporting ETAN's expanded activities and advocacy.

Make a monthly pledge via credit card
click here


Excerpts from Responses of Dennis C. Blair to Prehearing Questions

QUESTION 52 A. What is your understanding of the allegations made against you with respect to the role you played during the 1999 East Timor crisis?

B. What is your response to those allegations, including:

a. What was your role in communicating U.S. policy to the leadership of the Indonesian armed forces during the spring and summer of 1999?

b. Did you act in accordance with your instructions from Washington with respect to your interaction with the Indonesian military? If not, explain.

Answer: I have been surprised by questions and allegations raised about Indonesia and East Timor because they arose well after I had left my position as CINCPAC, and also because they have been flatly inaccurate.

The objective of the U.S. government at the time was to bring about East Timorese independence and to stop abuses by the Indonesian military. I strongly agreed that both objectives were good ones and worked in concert with our embassy to advance them.

I visited Indonesia several times while I was CINCPAC and in every meeting was accompanied by the U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia.

In every meeting there was a note taker, who produced a cable back to Washington reporting on our meetings.

In discussing our policy with Indonesian military officials with the U.S. Ambassador participating, I condemned the conduct of Indonesian troops in East Timor. I emphasized that if their troops behaved irresponsibly, they risked negative consequences, but if they behaved responsibly, the U.S. was prepared to respond positively.

Within the U.S. government, in order to draw the Indonesian military out of their narrow perspective, I argued for including them in regional meetings of senior military officers so that they would understand from their colleagues in other countries that their actions in East Timor cast Indonesia in a negative light. Moreover, I recommended that they send promising young officers to the United States for education and training – for the same objective. My recommendations were accepted for some of these activities and not for others.

My support of U.S. policy is a matter of record. My conversations specifically included strong opposition to violence against civilians. I emphasized the importance of respect for human rights.

Our policy worked. The Indonesian military became far more responsible in its behavior, and East Timor is now an independent country.

I do not understand the suggestions I have read in the media that my actions were other than as I have described. I was in the meetings I described with other American officials advancing the American agenda – and the detractors of my actions were not. It was a difficult period, but it has ended well, and I am pleased that I was able to play a role in the positive outcome.

Excerpts from Transcript of Confirmation Hearing January 22, 2009

CQ Transcriptswire


JANUARY 22, 2009


...I called former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry and asked him about Admiral Blair and here's what he said. He said, "I appointed him to the Joint Chiefs when he was a two-star and he was one of those who could think outside of the box." I think that is a real compliment.


WYDEN: I appreciate your stepping up. But the point is the authority, in your view -- you have said it's incomplete. You've said it needs to be clarified. We're going to have to stay with it until your position is one where you can be held accountable.

The second area I need to talk to you about is human rights, where we also talked. This is obviously a critical component of our foreign and an essential element of America's claim to moral leadership. And I think it's important that you clear up for the public record your response to the murder of thousands of innocent people in East Timor.

These killings were committed by paramilitary groups supported by the Indonesian military. Some observers have alleged that our government turned a blind eye to the slaughter. You at that time were the head of the Pacific Command during the time of these murders.

So right after the August of 1999 period when the people of East Timor declared their independence, there was a period of non-stop violence. Please describe for the record specifically your interactions with the Indonesian government during that period, that period right after independence and what specifically you did to end the slaughter of what eventually became 200,000 people.

BLAIR: Senator, I'm very glad to have a forum like this and a chance to talk about those allegations because they came up after I left active duty in 2002. And I want to say at the outset that those accusations, which I have read, are flat wrong.

At the time that we are talking about, the objective of the United States government was to ensure that East Timor gained its freedom. That was the best thing that we could do for the human rights and the future of the East Timorese. And that was the focus of our policy.

I and many other leaders of government carried out the American government's policy at that time. In our conversations with leaders of Indonesia, both military and civilian, we decried and said that the torture and killing that was being conducted by paramilitary groups and some military groups in East Timor had to stop, that unless it stopped, there would be heavier penalties paid by Indonesia, but that if it did stop, then the relationship between the United States and Indonesia could get better. That was my consistent message in several meetings, many phone calls with Indonesian leaders.

All of those meetings and all of those phone calls were attended by our ambassador in the country. They were the subject of reporting cables. And they were consistent with the government policy. So those who say that I was somehow carrying out my own policy or saying things that were not in accordance with American policy are just flat wrong. And East Timor is now free. And I think it was a successful policy. And I'm proud of it.

WYDEN: Madam Chair, my time is expired.

Two points -- first, I would like to see those cables that attest to the various communications you had.


FEINGOLD: I look forward to hearing from you on the specific legislation and your general comments in the future.

I know Senator Wyden already addressed this, and -- and I do want to bring this up. Although I am a strong supporter of your nomination, I just want to talk about this area of East Timor briefly.

As you know, I've had longstanding, continuing concerns about human rights abuses and lack of accountability in Indonesia. We no doubt have substantive difference about U.S. policy, but I want to address at this hearing today the allegations in the press, in The Washington Post, that initially at least you worked around our ambassador in Indonesia in order to get Jakarta -- to Jakarta for engagement with Indonesian military officers, notwithstanding the army atrocities in East Timor.

Are those allegations accurate?

BLAIR: No, sir, they're not.

FEINGOLD: Well, it says in the press reports that the ambassador is with you at all the meetings, but the press accounts suggest that you went around him to get to Jakarta and that, notwithstanding his presence in the meeting, you were supportive -- that he was supportive neither of the trip nor of the outreach to the Indonesian military.

Is that accurate?

BLAIR: No, sir, that's not -- that's not accurate.

FEINGOLD: Could you explain what's wrong with that?

BLAIR: I -- I had my position on the military relations with Indonesia as part of internal -- internal discussions, what kind, how much, what to -- what to shut off, what to -- what to continue with, and I -- I made recommendations within that -- within our interagency process on that.

When it came to dealing with the Indonesians, I was a member of the 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 -- that's absolutely flat wrong. I carried out the government policy in my relations with Indonesia.

Within policy debates in the United States, I made my recommendations, and I -- I then carried out the policy of the government as it was -- was decided. So -- but those -- those allegations are wrong. I...

FEINGOLD: Thank you for responding to that on the record. We all agree that the United States should support human rights, but how we achieve that is a fundamental policy question. It should not be dismissed, and I do appreciate your candid response.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman -- Madam Chairman.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much.


Excerpts from Responses to Dennis C. Blair Post-hearing Questions

Question for the Record Senator Hatch

... Please explain in detail your understanding of how politicization can corrode analysis, giving examples if you can, and what should be done regarding those who politicize intelligence and intelligence analysts who tolerate political pressure. For example, I have heard credible reports that during the September 1999 violence in East Timor, senior military leaders at PACOM and in the Pentagon’s J5 were reluctant to accept intelligence from analysts as it began to show that General Wiranto and the TNI were complicit in or supporting militia violence in East Timor. Some military leaders encouraged analysts to downplay this intelligence in finished assessments so as not to affect military assistance funding for the TNI. Do you consider either the reluctance to accept intelligence judgments or efforts to encourage analysts to change their assessments to be political pressure? If so, why was this kind of pressure allowed to go on during your watch as PACOM commander?


You also asked about reports of attempts within the Pacific Command staff to influence intelligence concerning events in East Timor when I was commander-in-chief. Documents of these events, which occurred almost a decade ago, are not now available to me. However, I do remember well that the reports of the atrocities themselves were quickly available, both through intelligence reports and in the international press. It was clear that the local TNI units charged with security in East Timor were failing to protect civilians, and were sometimes assisting those conducting the atrocities. I was the senior officer in PACOM, and was requesting and receiving information both on the atrocities themselves and on senior TNI complicity in ordering them. It was not clear whether the TNI units in East Timor were disregarding orders to act humanely, or whether they were receiving secret orders from TNI leadership to permit or commit the atrocities. At that stage in Indonesia, the military chain of command was weak, and either explanation was possible. The intelligence on this key question was not extensive or conclusive. When I talked with TNI leadership during visits and by phone, those leaders assured me that they had given orders to their troops to act humanely. In my conversations with TNI leaders concerning the atrocities, I therefore relied on the international media reports of the atrocities, and the fundamental responsibility of a military leader to have his orders carried out. I remember at one point pointing to a television set and telling a senior TNI officer that if he was giving the orders he claimed, it was clear from television cameras on scene that they were not being carried out, and that it was his responsibility to ensure they were. The worst atrocities were after the August 1999 referendum, and were so widespread and well planned that it was clear that the entire TNI command in East Timor was involved. At this point it did not matter whether General Wiranto had ordered them or not – they were his responsibility. That was the thrust of my conversation with him on September 9 when I delivered this message on behalf of the U.S. government.







Support ETAN. Donate today!

Become an ETAN Sustainer, make a pledge via credit card here

Bookmark and Share

Background | Take Action | News | Links | What You Can Do | Resources  | Contact

ETAN Store | Estafeta | ImagesHome | Timor Postings | Search | Site Index |

Follow ETAN:

Like ETAN on Facebook Follow ETAN on Twitter ETAN on Google+ ETAN email listservs ETAN blog ETAN on LinkedIn ETAN on Pinterest Donate to ETAN!