POLITICS
02/05/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Leon Panetta: CIA Director

UPDATE 1/06: Marc Ambinder reports that President-elect Obama is confident that Leon Panetta won't face serious opposition, despite Democratic Senators' grumblings.

"I think he's going to be fine," senior adviser David Axelrod said. Of concerns that Panetta might not have enough experience with the CIA's culture, Axelrod said Panetta "will do well. He's tough and smart."

..

Another Obama aide confirmed that the "hope was to roll it out later this week, which would obviously be after informing congress."

News networks are reporting that Leon Panetta, former congressman and White House chief of staff, will be President-elect Barack Obama's CIA Director.

The New York Times adds some background:

Mr. Panetta has a reputation in Washington as a competent manager with strong background in budget issues, but has little hands-on intelligence experience. If confirmed by the Senate, he will take control of the agency most directly responsible for hunting senior Al Qaeda leaders around the globe, but one that has been buffeted since the Sept. 11 attacks by leadership changes and morale problems. [...]

Given his background, Mr. Panetta is a somewhat unusual choice to lead the C.I.A., an agency that has been unwelcoming to previous directors perceived as outsiders, such as Stansfield M. Turner and John M. Deutch. But his selection points up the difficulty Mr. Obama had in finding a C.I.A. director with no connection to controversial counterterrorism programs of the Bush era.

The move came as a surprise, however, including to incoming Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who is clearly not pleased. She gave the following statement to the Washington Independent:

"I was not informed about the selection of Leon Panetta to be the CIA Director. I know nothing about this, other than what I've read," said Senator Feinstein, who will chair the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in the 111th Congress.

"My position has consistently been that I believe the Agency is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time."

An aide to outgoing intel committee chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller echoed Feinstein: he "has tremendous respect for Leon Panetta [but] he believes the CIA director should go to someone who has significant intelligence experience and someone from outside the political world of Washington D.C."

David Corn at Mother Jones, however, says the pick is reason to celebrate:

Panetta is an even-tempered and highly regarded Washington player--kind of a Mr. Fixit in a nice suit. He is also a zero-tolerance critic of the use of torture, and he considers waterboarding--a tactic used by the CIA--to be torture.

A CIA director who has denounced torture, advocated intelligence cuts, and backed greater congressional control of covert operations--that would be....different. This appointment certainly has the potential to spark opposition from inside and outside the agency. But if Panetta manages to make it to Langley without much fuss, that would indeed signal real change in Washington.

Panetta spoke out against distortion of intelligence and use of torture in an editorial on "fear tactics" last March.

Fear exacts a terrible toll on our democracy. Five years ago, America went to war in Iraq over the false fear that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Even though we now know that there were intelligence officials who questioned the assertion, few leaders were willing to challenge this argument for war because they knew it might undermine public support for the president's decision to invade Iraq.

More recently, President Bush vetoed a law that would require the CIA and all the intelligence services to abide by the same rules on torture as contained in the U.S. Army Field Manual.

He also criticized Hillary Clinton's campaign last winter in a New York Observer interview, saying the wife of his former boss had underestimated Obama.

A biography of Panetta can be found on his own website.

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