Leon Panetta? Huh? What Year Is This?

crossposted at BlogHer

Well excuse me while I put my flannel back on and rip my jeans. Apparently the 90’s are back.

The New York Times reports Leon Panetta, former Clinton White House chief of staff, will be named CIA director.

“Democratic officials said Mr. Obama had selected Mr. Panetta for his managerial skills, his bipartisan standing, and the foreign policy and budget experience he gained under President Bill Clinton. Mr. Panetta has himself been a sharp critic of the agency’s interrogation practices.”

But let’s be honest, most of us are scratching our heads over this one. Panetta has limited intelligence experience, at best. And while President-elect Obama is touting the pick (unofficially) as someone who would not tell him what he wants to hear, but what he needs to know…I can’t help but turn on some grunge music and wonder how this position came to be filled.

Was this part of the great Clinton negotiation?

Is this an old school pick or an unusual pick meant to push change in the CIA?

Mcjoan at Daily Kos writes, “This appointment is a bit out of left field, but it is encouraging in several ways: Obama wasn’t swayed by the intelligence community’s all-out effort to put a current CIA type into the position–an effort aimed at maintaining and/or justifying Bush policies, including torture. Instead, Obama went for someone with proven management skills, something that it desperately needed in the position. But the best news in all of this–Leon Panetta is a much of a departure from torture as you could want.”

This is a plus, because I land firmly in the “torture sucks” crowd.

However my California Senator Diane Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, seems ticked:

“My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time,” she said.

Lez Get Real writes, “From 1997 to 2000 I was employed by the National Security Agency as an analyst and I am getting feed back from those in the know about this appointment and they are saying that many intelligence and defense insiders are up in arms about this… Several top ranked members of the Intelligence Agency have also stated that they would leave their position if Panetta were confirmed.”

Which makes me go…uh oh.

Kathy from Comments From Left Field notes the righties are outraged seeing the pick as an “anti-torture” statement.

However, even if the CIA insiders (and the righties) are pissed, the President is STILL the President, and their job remains to gather intelligence and report TO the President.

Will there be unnecessary pissing matching by the big boys because their guy didn’t get picked? Probably. Will they make life more difficult for the new administration and moan and whine a bit? Probably.

Will they stop doing their job and put our country in danger? I’d hope not.

Contributing Editor Erin Kotecki Vest also blogs at Queen of Spain Blog


  1. I’m not going to pretend that I have the first clue about government intelligence. (In all honesty, I thought that was an oxymoron. HAR HAR HAR.)
    However, I firmly believe in our President-elect and his ability to delegate power. That being said, just from what I’ve read here, if the big issue here is that this guy is ‘anti-torture’ and that’s the worst of the worries, then I’d say that we’re likely pretty lucky.
    And it just seems funny to me that so many people can be so shook up over who’s in charge… You’ve got to know when you’re in a job like that that position is going to change at the very least once every 8 years if not every 4. If you can’t deal with that constant shift of power, perhaps you’d better find a different job.

  2. another strong female voice on the pick- and she’s not happy


  3. I know Panetta’s work and abilities from his Institute and his time as both a formal and informal representative for the north Central Coast of California. This is a superbly intelligent person, who knows foreign and domestic policy–and politics–like only a few others. Unlike those others, however, he isn’t focused on the petty, the simplistic, or the rhetorical. He is a principled person, with the chops to back it up. I’m not sure what drew Obama to him, but I am confident Panetta can do the job.

  4. Thanks for the insight Tomas. It’s nice to hear that.

  5. I have followed Panetta’s career rather closely – he was, at one point, my congressman, and he was a good one.

    The thing I think interests me most about him is his exquisite timing. He left his post as White House Chief of Staff about 2 minutes before the whole Lewinsky thing broke. He knows when to hold em and knows when to fold em.

    I think he is a smart political animal, which makes me wonder what he knows about this that we don’t know. He seems an unlikely choice, but I would bet that he does a bang-up job of rehabilitating the image of the agency.

  6. Rachel Maddow and her guests had a good spin on this. She says the current Intelligence insiders are the guys (and gals) who sat by and watched torture happen and didn’t sound the alarm (and that includes Dianne Feinstein.) So they’ve kind of forfeited the right to be promoted into overseeing positions. Obama’s sending a strong message that there will be no “failing up”.

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