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.
FILED UNDER: General, , ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. Moonage says:

    My concern with Panetta hasn’t been addressed by much of anyone with any exposure. Namely, his experience has been with civil rights. Now, that’s all fine and good in any other capacity, but I don’t think it’s well suited for the CIA. His objection to torture of any kind during interrogations I think is a direct result of over-riding concern for civil rights. Our enemies don’t really concern themselves with our civil rights. And, we all know what happened when Jamie Gorelick/Janet Reno placed a higher concern with non-intelligence gathering agendas ( in their case, legal wonking ) than the security of the nation.

    Even if a person is not experienced in national security issues, I’d at least prefer to have someone who believes in the safety of our nation first in charge of the CIA.

  2. Michael says:

    On the other hand I’m concerned that the new administration may undervalue relevant specialist expertise when that’s more important than ever.

    I’m curious as to specifically what “expertise” would be lacking. It always seemed to me that intelligence gathering wasn’t so much a matter of technical knowledge, but rather about contacts and sources of information. And while Panetta may be lacking in those, I don’t see them as being utilized by the Director anyway, but rather by the actual employees of CIA.

  3. Michael says:

    Our enemies don’t really concern themselves with our civil rights.

    Can we please stop using that tired old argument? Our enemies don’t care much about our lives either, but you wouldn’t justify random killings because of that.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    I’m curious as to specifically what “expertise” would be lacking. It always seemed to me that intelligence gathering wasn’t so much a matter of technical knowledge, but rather about contacts and sources of information.

    An increasing amount of intelligence gathering isn’t cloak and dagger stuff but highly technical utilization of open sources. Intelligence isn’t the only field that’s seeing increasing requirements for technical expertise. It’s true of fields from financial analysis to marketing to medicine.

  5. Michael says:

    An increasing amount of intelligence gathering isn’t cloak and dagger stuff but highly technical utilization of open sources.

    Okay, but my point still stands, the Director isn’t going to be doing anything technical, he won’t be gathering the information himself, he won’t even really be compiling it himself. What specifically does the Director of CIA need to know that Panetta doesn’t?

  6. Boyd says:

    Why do people who have no experience in intelligence gathering always seem to believe that experience is unnecessary to lead an intelligence-gathering effort?

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    Here’s a specific example of intelligence gathering that requires expertise that Mr. Panetta probably doesn’t have: what was done in the NSA controversy. Not only does he probably not understand it, he probably doesn’t have the necessary background to acquire an understanding of what was actually going on. That lack would hamper anybody trying to manage such an operation or the people who were conducting the operation. Otherwise he can only take people’s word for stuff.

    I believe I’ve read comments from you before that you don’t need to know how to program to manage programmers. True enough. But you need to have a pretty fair idea of what a computer is and what programmers do.

    That’s the level I’m talking about.

    I don’t know, specifically, what the CIA is doing these days but I think it’s reasonable to believe that, with the increasingly technical nature of intelligence-gathering, the people who manage it, even at the highest levels, are going to need to be more technical, too.

  8. anjin-san says:

    Our enemies don’t really concern themselves with our civil rights.

    It’s our job to be concerned with our civil rights, and its past time we got back to it…

  9. Michael says:

    Here’s a specific example of intelligence gathering that requires expertise that Mr. Panetta probably doesn’t have: what was done in the NSA controversy. Not only does he probably not understand it, he probably doesn’t have the necessary background to acquire an understanding of what was actually going on.

    What NSA controversy would that be?

  10. Barry says:

    “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.”

    At this point, Spook86 should be renamed SpookDeadEnder, or perhaps SpookBithead.

    However, it is good that you quoted enough of his garbage so that intelligent people can disregard him.

  11. Michael says:

    You’re not exactly adding much to the conversation, Barry.

  12. zenpundit says:

    I have to interject that Panetta does have some experience in intel as an Army intelligence officer (an analyst) during the Vietnam War.

    Not an intel career by any means but formal training with “the basics”. Some DCIs lacked even that.

  13. Bithead says:

    I’ll tell you what we have in Panetta; Someone who is used to the idea of being subserviant to the Clintons. Given the relationship of the CIA and the State Dept, particularly as regards handling of intel, and given Clinton’s history with classified matters (Can you say 900 FBI files?) it doesn’t take a great genius to figure out what will be happening there. Indeed, what chatter I’m getting from inside the agency (indirectly) reflects that concern.

    My take is that this is a pick that Obama had not thought all the way through… or if he did, that the consequences of not making that pick were higher than making it and putting up with fellow Democrats publicly bitching about it.

    What consequences? Well, I suggest that Panetta was Hillary Clinton’s pick for the post, and not Obama’s per se’. If you’ll recall, I asked here and at my own place a couple months ago, what all the negotiation between Clinton and Obama was about… Clearly, both Clinton and Obama were laying out their conditions…I’ve started to think Panetta at CIA was one of Clinton’s conditions. Given the way this appointment was publicly (mis-)handled and the way Obama’s usual processes were bypassed, it makes far more sense than it being a whim appointment on Obama’s part. He’s many things most of them deplorable, but Obama’s simply not that stupid. I suggest Panetta was rammed through because of Hillary Clinton and her preconditions. It’s exactly why Obama is not suffering the debate over Panetta’s appointment well, and went so far out of his way to cut off debate on the issue, to the point of not informing the Intel comittee leaders in either house… members of his own party. That handling of the matter has a rather Clinton-like feel to it.

    Let’s not forget the Deputy Atty General appointment I mentioned a couple of days ago… David Ogden… who served under Janet Reno. One of many Clintonistas appointed by Obama.

    Is anyone detecting the pattern, here, I wonder? All these people Clinton has worked with in the past, and clearly has some personal sway with today, and all of them in key positions.

    Change, did someone say? It’s the Clinton administration without Bill… with all the attendant corruption.

  14. Drew says:

    Everything I have read, or any interview I have listened to, indicates that the head of intelligence is a much different position than, say, the recent appointment to Surgeon General.

    That is, intelligence is highly technical and specialized, an extremely complex organization requiring a need for historical perspective, and would benefit from someone steeped in the field.

    Just as a Wall Street investment bank doesn’t need a CEO who just happens to be a world class tool and die man……….or removal of a brain tumor calls for a neuro, but not a heart surgeon -or accountant – no matter how brilliant, competant, or experienced and intellectually nimble the acct or cardio man may be.

    I’ve seen the defenses. They seem a bit tortured. I’m not buying this Panetta thingy.

  15. steve s says:

    His objection to torture of any kind during interrogations I think is a direct result of over-riding concern for civil rights.

    Maybe he doesn’t like torture because it degrades us, shames our nation, alienates our allies, improves terror recruiting, and does nothing for our security.

    Just a thought.

  16. anjin-san says:

    Change, did someone say? It’s the Clinton administration without Bill… with all the attendant corruption.

    Do you have any actual evidence that Panetta is corrupt? Or Obama? Ante up, bubba….

  17. Bithead says:

    Do you have any actual evidence that Panetta is corrupt? Or Obama? Ante up, bubba….

    And at what point did I say Panetta was corrupt?

    As you say… Ante up. We’ll wait, but not for long.

  18. anjin-san says:

    Well, the subject is the Panetta nomination, and you said:

    Change, did someone say? It’s the Clinton administration without Bill… with all the attendant corruption.

    So, the implication is that Panetta is corrupt, or perhaps you are just ranting with very little coherence.

    You have yet to offer up a shred of evidence of actual corruption by any party involved. Once again, ante up…

  19. Bithead says:

    Or perhaps, in your despertae and knee-jerk search for things to ding me with, you’re just reading into things again… things that aren’t there.

    Consider; While there’s no doubtin my mind Hillary Clinton is corrupt in the extreme… Panetta may not have been corrupted by the people around him. If you discount that argument, you may want to address the isue of Obama and the mess we know as Chicago politics, as to how he could have arisen out of that particular sewer without getting any crap on his halo.

  20. anjin-san says:

    Bit,

    In other words, you charge of corruption against the incoming Obama administration is totally unsupported, yet another bithead argument with no basis in reality.

    Got it.

  21. Bithead says:

    Nice try at turning your screwup around, Anjin. C- for effort and all that. Too bad, though, you hadda ignore half of what I wrote to do it.

  22. Bithead says:

    Nice try at turning your screwup around, Anjin. C- for effort and all that. Too bad, though, you hadda ignore half of what I wrote to do it.

  23. anjin-san says:

    You are right bit, reading you nonsense probably does constitute a “screwup”…