ASPEN: Former US intelligence chief Dennis Blair said Friday the US should stop its drone campaign in Pakistan, and reconsider the $80 billion a year it spends to fight terrorism.
Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, Blair said the CIA's unmanned aircraft operation aimed at al-Qaida is backfiring by damaging the US-Pakistan relationship.
The former director of national intelligence suggests giving Pakistan more say in what gets hit by drone strikes and when, despite Pakistan's record of tipping off militants when it gets advance word of US action.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who previously headed the CIA, has lauded the drone campaign as a key tool to take out al-Qaida and other militants in Pakistan's tribal areas.
Strikes, which have more than tripled year-to-year under the Obama administration, are done with tacit Pakistani assent, though publicly, Pakistani officials decry the hits.
That tension has grown worse after the US unilateral raid into Pakistan May 2 to kill al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, and an earlier incident in January, when a CIA contractor was held for killing two Pakistani men in Lahore that he said were trying to rob him.
Blair said the continuing drone strikes are more of a nuisance than a real threat to al-Qaida, and that only a ground campaign by Pakistan would truly threaten it and other militant organizations.
''It can sustain its level of resistance to an air-only campaign,'' he said.
The retired admiral also suggested cutting the cost of hunting terrorists by relying more on local forces in places like Yemen and Somalia.
The US is already working with indigenous forces in both countries, but also sustains a large and expensive offshore presence aboard a ship off the Yemeni coast, as well as flying armed and observation drones from Djibouti and other sites in the region.
He estimated that there are some 4,000 terrorists worldwide, and a budget of some $80 billion devoted to fighting them, a figure he said did not include the wars of Afghanistan or Iraq.
''That's $20 million for each of these people ... Is that proportionate?'' he asked.
He pointed out that 17 Americans have been killed inside the US by terrorists in the decade since Sept. 11, including the 14 killed in the Ft. Hood massacre, while car accidents and daily crime combined have killed some 1.5 million people during the same 10 years.
''What is it that justifies this amount of money on this narrow problem?'' he asked.
Blair, who was forced to resign by the Obama administration, says the White House undermined his authority as director of national intelligence by siding with the CIA, instead of telling it to listen to him.
''They sided enough with the CIA in ways that were public enough that it undercut my position,'' Blair said.