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
Ed McWilliams (former political counselor, US Embassy, Jakarta)
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.
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
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.
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
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
Dana Priest's profile of Admiral Blair appeared in the Washington
Post almost exactly a year later on Sept. 20, 2000 [http://etan.org/news/2000a/01wpblair.htm].
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
http://etan.org/et99/april/default.htm]. 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 [http://etan.org/et99/april/3-10/7bishop.htm].
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
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
ETAN Urges President-elect Obama Not to Appoint Adm. Blair Director
of National Intelligence;
ETAN Menolak Adm. Blair
sebagai Kepala Intelijen Nasional
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,
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
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
Our policy worked. The Indonesian military became
far more responsible in its behavior, and East Timor is now an
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
SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE HOLDS A
HEARING ON THE NOMINATION OF DENNIS BLAIR TO BE DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL
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
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
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
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
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.
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.