A CHANGE IN INTELLIGENCE…. The Wall Street Journal reported a few weeks ago that the upcoming Obama administration is “unlikely” to make major changes to the government’s intelligence-gathering operations. The WSJ said this could lead to “tension within the Democratic Party.” That would be a safe bet.

Fortunately, everything we’ve learned since suggests Obama intends to go in a very different direction. Reports surfaced, for example, that Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and CIA Director Michael Hayden are likely to be replaced. What’s more, the WSJ reports today that Obama is intent on hiring experienced intelligence officials “who aren’t associated with the Bush administration’s controversial interrogation policies.”

Mr. Obama appears to be having a harder time filling his top intelligence posts, a harbinger of the tough choices facing the president-elect as he considers whether to retain the Bush administration’s controversial interrogation and surveillance policies.
Several officials close to the transition process said retired Navy Adm. Dennis Blair was the front-runner to be the director of national intelligence, though they cautioned that the decision hadn’t been finalized and probably wouldn’t be announced Monday. The officials said that Mr. Obama was impressed by Adm. Blair’s reputation as a strong manager. […]

Choosing Mr. Blair may reignite long-simmering tensions between military and civilian intelligence officials, who are wary of what they see as the creeping militarization of the nation’s intelligence services. Several former intelligence officials wondered whether it was wise for an admiral to oversee an intelligence operation that is increasingly involved in domestic issues.

Why, then, is Blair a leading candidate? Because he’s “free of any association with two of the intelligence community’s most controversial issues: the CIA’s harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects and the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program.” (Last week, 25-year CIA veteran John Brennan, a leading candidate to run the CIA, withdrew from consideration after questions over his Bush-era tenure.)

James Miller, a senior vice president at the Center for a New American Security, a left-leaning think tank, “This is the area where you see extremely bright lines separating the Bush administration and the Obama administration.”


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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.