The appointment of Leon Panetta, White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, to head the CIA has many scratching their heads. Why would a novice President-elect appoint an intelligence rookie at a time of war?
Although many observers feel that Panetta’s lack of intelligence or foreign policy experience will make it difficult for Panetta during confirmation hearings, others speculate that Obama chose Panetta precisely because he could easily win the approval of Congress.
A more interesting question to ask is why did Obama skip over informing Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who will oversee the confirmation hearing for Mr. Panetta and who will chair the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in the 111th Congress?
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Feinstein was not consulted prior to the selection of Panetta.
"I was not informed about the selection of Leon Panetta to be the CIA director . . .My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time."
Panetta did not seek the position and has no plans to move away from California. According to Michael Scheuer, a veteran and critic of the CIA, “there probably aren't a lot of talented Americans in either party that want to be head of the CIA."
Due to changes after Sept 11, the CIA director does not brief the president every morning because that job “belongs to the director of National Intelligence, who oversees the CIA and other clandestine services.” Retired Adm. Dennis Blair was chosen by Obama to hold that job.
According to Richard Betts, a national security policy and military strategy specialist at Columbia University, "Panetta's significance will be as a politically adroit manager; not an intelligence professional."
Because the Obama transition team didn’t want to have anything to do with anyone associated with the CIA during the last administration they were looking outside the agency to fill the position. They were looking for a solid and trustworthy person untainted by the CIA and Panetta appears to fill that bill.
The Herald Tribune of Sarasota, Florida reports that Obama selected Panetta for his managerial skills, and for the “foreign policy and budget experience he gained under President Bill Clinton.” Like Obama, Panetta was a critic of the agency’s interrogation practices during the Bush administration.
Democratic officials said Mr. Panetta’s gravitas and ties to Mr. Obama would give the C.I.A. a powerful voice within the administration, particularly in bureaucratic jockeying with the Pentagon, which has a much bigger budget and more bureaucratic clout.
Not everyone is happy with the selection of Panetta. Some intelligence experts think that Panetta is a risky choice. Amy Zegart, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has written extensively on intelligence matters said:
“It’s a puzzling choice and a high-risk choice . . . The best way to change intelligence policies from the Bush administration responsibly is to pick someone intimately familiar with them,” Ms. Zegart said. “This is intelligence, not tax or transportation policy. You can’t hit the ground running by reading briefing books and asking smart questions.”