CIA Director – Leon Panetta

By Brad Porter | Related entries in Breaking News, Civil Liberties, News, Obama Appointments, Torture

In one of the more, forgive me, torturous staffing processes, it looks like Barack Obama has finally settled on the last major appointment he had left to make, that of CIA director. Given that the Bush administration has done so much long-term, institutional damage to our intelligence superstructure, basic tenets of human rights and the rule of law, and the really nearly impossible to overstate damage done to the very idea of America itself, and almost all of that has fallen under the scope of the CIA at one point or another, bloggers like Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan, and other leading voices in the fight for not buying into the false choice of security over freedom, have been keeping a very close, very wary eye on what Obama was going to do here.

Remember that Obama’s first floated choice for CIA Director, John Brennan, had to withdraw his name from consideration due to a mostly blogosphere-induced backlash against his previous advocacy of Bush positions on wiretapping, torture, and the like. While it remains unclear how complicit Brennan actually was in any of that (probably not very, in truth), those of us hoping for a clear indication of new direction were happy to see him go.

But that left Obama in a difficult bind. For CIA director, you kind of need somebody who has been working at a high level in the intelligence community. But, given that that would have been under Bush’s tenure, that also would be someone who almost certainly, on some level, had a hand in the aforementioned abuses.

Obama appears to have squared this circle by bypassing it entirely, nominating instead a man with not one iota of intelligence experience–former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta.

n_panetta_cia_090105300w

NBC News has confirmed that President-elect Barack Obama has chosen former Clinton White House chief of staff Leon Panetta to run the CIA.

Panetta was a surprise pick for the post, with no experience in the intelligence world. An Obama transition official and another Democrat disclosed his nomination on a condition of anonymity since it was not yet public.

Panetta was director of the Office of Management and Budget and a longtime congressman from California.

If you have to make a quick trip to wikipedia, I don’t blame you.

However, despite the fact that he has no intelligence background, I find myself a bit optimistic about his appointment.

For one, it indicates that Obama is very serious about changing direction–he was responsive to the Brennan criticism, and in response he has gone out of his way to choose an outsider. A way, way outsider. As Andrew Sullivan notes, Panetta is clearly “significantly, detached from the torture regime and its apparatus in a way that anyone involved in the CIA in the last eight years would not be.” And as Glenn Greenwald adds, “it does seem clear that the Obama team was serious about avoiding anyone who had any connection at all to the Bush torture, surveillance and detention programs.”

For another, Panetta does have some thoughts on the germane issues of the post. Atrios uncovers a March op-ed by Panetta (and here’s a related one in the Washington Monthly) in which he more or less unequivocally condemns torture, wiretapping, and in general using fear as a justification for legality. It’s a thin record, to be sure, but at least it’s in the right direction.

And finally, what I think is thus far being missed, is the decision to choose not a spook, but a manager for the post. Panetta’s history is that of a human resources guy, a liason problem-solver. To that end, the smartest early take I’ve read yet on his appointment comes from Marc Ambinder. Panetta is there to clean house and, like much of what Obama does, to provide competent, pragmatic, and not-particular-ideologically driven leadership. In other words, like Obama himself, the hope seems to be that Panetta is being appointed to be the adult in the room at Langley, with the considerable added benefit of not having any particular baggage or loyalties himself.

Since nobody knows much about Panetta (at least not of the bloggers I read) and this is an entirely new role for him, it remains to be seen if he’ll prove effective or not; we can really only make generalized guesses. But as somebody who’s been watching this one decision closely, I’m cautiously optimistic.


This entry was posted on Monday, January 5th, 2009 and is filed under Breaking News, Civil Liberties, News, Obama Appointments, Torture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

9 Responses to “CIA Director – Leon Panetta”

  1. The Crossed Pond » More Thoughts On Panetta Says:

    [...] A slightly expanded take from me at Donklephant posted in: Main [...]

  2. J. Harden Says:

    Leon Panetta?? What was George McGovern too busy? Obama has given the jihadists in Gaza one thing to smile about today.

  3. Izerc Says:

    Here a Hack, There a Hack, Everywhere a Hack-Hack

    Leon Panetta, no experience needed.

    http://www.izerc.com/?p=219

  4. Ralph Spyer Says:

    The CIA has undertaken regime change in 1953 Iran;1953 and 1980 Italy;1954 Guatemela ;1954 Cuba;1960 Congo;1963 Iraq; 1967 Greece;1978 and 1980 Afghanistan ;1992 Iraq again;1980 Turkey; 1981 and 1990 Nicargua; 2000; 2000 Zimbabwe; 2000 Sebia ;2002 Venezuela; 2003 Georgia; 2004 Ukraine; 2004 Guinea ;2005 Lebanon; 2001 Iran again; and 2007 Myanmar. Does Leon Panetta want to run this terrorist organization?

  5. Donklephant » Blog Archive » CIA Director - Leon Panetta | techa news Says:

    [...] the original: Donklephant » Blog Archive » CIA Director – Leon Panetta Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and [...]

  6. Jim Says:

    A Modest Proposal:

    Nothing good can come from torturing sentences. Free Camp Run-On!

    “Given that the Bush administration has done so much long-term, institutional damage to our intelligence superstructure, basic tenets of human rights and the rule of law, and the really nearly impossible to overstate damage done to the very idea of America itself, and almost all of that has fallen under the scope of the CIA at one point or another, bloggers like Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan, and other leading voices in the fight for not buying into the false choice of security over freedom, have been keeping a very close, very wary eye on what Obama was going to do here.”

    No appointments for sentence torturers! Indictments for all purveyors of neocon run-on travesties of justice!

  7. ExiledIndependent Says:

    Obama backing down from Brennan doesn’t strike me as “receptive,” it strikes me as a bit weak-willed. Intelligence–good *reliable* intelligence–is critical right now. To appoint someone with no intelligence experience to “clean house” at an intelligence agency is beyond ridiculous. I hope the man does a good job, but not Obama’s strongest pick so far.

  8. Brad Porter Says:

    That sentence didn’t deserve Geneva protections.

    As to the objections, I’m having this debate at my own blog as well, where many of my co-bloggers also see it as a case of Obama dismissing the need for field expertise.

    My response is that certainly, experience is and should be an issue. But I think I learned my lesson from the Bush II White House—you can go the route of just taking the Most Experienced Person On Earth for every given position, but those people tend to come with a lot of baggage, hard-wired hidden agendas, their own cliques, their own ideological axes to grind, etc.

    Or, the analogy can run like this. Say you have a very large 6A inner city school that is failing miserably in every conceivable way. Now, Rojas’ line would say you should look to the senior-most teacher in that school and promote them to principal. But at that point you run exactly the risk of just magnifying the problems further, to say the least. Barring some obvious standout choice within the school, it might be better to go fishing.

    Other people might say it would be worth it to bring in someone who doesn’t necessarily come from the realm of education, but knows how to right a sinking ship (say, a business executive with an interest and a track record of whipping failed institutions into shape).

    That’s a very rough analogy obviously, but I think it gets the general gist of it. There is a risk to it, of course—could be that the outsider’s skills just don’t translate at all and he misses key components of the job. But there’s a risk in going the “heavy experience” route as well—the candidate, pretty likely, will be mired in the same kind of failed thinking and inefficiency you’re trying to cleave.

    I also like Tim Roemer’s take:

    I think that underestimates his chief of staff experience, when you’re dealing with the CIA and the national security administration on a daily basis. He has about three years of experience dealing with the heads of agencies, with crises, and with national and foreign policy issues. I think he does bring a knowledge of the CIA and good national security experience from both his time on the Hill and the Iraq study group…and as chief of staff to the president where you’re immersed in it on an hourly basis. Leon is going to be dealing with sensitive issues, like Guantanamo, and renditions and torture, and [there needs to be] a good working relationship with Capitol Hill, and he has that.

  9. daveg Says:

    Pennetta was a good pick.

    Several ex-CIA approve of the pick and I am very pleased that Obama did not even consult Feinstein as she was pushing for virtual Israeli spy Jane Harmon to head the agency. And that is not an exaggeration.

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