The Right Man?
I’ve had mixed feelings about long-time politico Leon Panetta’s naming as the Director of Central Intelligence in the incoming Obama Administration. On the one hand he certainly knows the ins and outs of Washington and is untainted by torture allegations. On the other hand I’m concerned that the new administration may undervalue relevant specialist expertise when that’s more important than ever.
Opinions from within the intelligence community itself are varied on the appointment. As James noted in his post some are lauding it. Some, like former member of the intelligence community Spook86, disagree:
Elements within the CIA have pursued a strident, anti-administration agenda, under-cutting President Bush’s policies on Iran’s nuclear program and other issues. Case in point: the intelligence community’s infamous 2007 assessment of Tehran’s nuclear ambitions–largely based on CIA analysts–which effectively ended any chances for U.S. military action against Iran. The long-term consequences of that analytical power play have yet to be determined.
To advance the reform agenda at Langley, the CIA clearly needs an experienced hand. But there are more compelling reasons to put a career intelligence officer in charge of the agency. The threat facing our nation remains very real; a recent study suggests that terrorists will stage a chemical or biological attack inside the United States during the next five years. Meeting that challenge requires a leader who doesn’t need on the job training, and will hold his organization to the highest standards of tradecraft and professional conduct.
Mr. Panetta is a capable administrator and experienced political operative, but he’s the wrong man to lead the CIA at this critical juncture. His nomination also reflects badly on President-elect Barack Obama and his transition team. Most of his national security team was announced last month. Delaying the CIA announcement until the New Year suggests that the appointment was something of an afterthought, or that the job was rejected by more qualified candidates.
This morning my blog-friend Mark Safranski makes the case that Leon Panetta is the right man for the job:
While Panetta is himself a partisan Democrat who on paper has had no direct experience with intelligence matters, he brings to the table some exceptional qualifications:
- As a former director of OMB, Panetta had the very rare “super-user” access at OMB that permitted him to review line item requests of the super-secret “black budget” of the entire intelligence community (IC). Few DCIs in the history of the CIA began the job with the perspective of funding, internal budgeting, and program expenditure in intelligence community matters of Leon Panetta.
- As the former White House chief of staff, Panetta was often present for the president’s daily brief (now the responsibility of the DNI, then of the CIA). While Panetta may not know the best practice in an intel analytical process, he has more than enough experience to recognize a shoddy intelligence product and to demand better performance.
- With his long experience in the legislative and executive branches, Panetta has clout of his own and is unlikely to be intimidated or impressed by Senate and House committees eager to witch hunt, scapegoat, or neuter the CIA clandestine service, which is risk-averse enough as it is. Panetta would be the first CIA director who was also a political heavyweight since William Casey.
- As a former White House chief of staff and member of the Iraq Study Group, Panetta has already been entrusted with the nation’s most sensitive secrets. He’s aware of the strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots of the IC and his patriotism is beyond reproach. Nor does he need the job. Panetta isn’t running for president in 2016 or cashing in like so many others.