By reaching outside the intelligence community and picking Leon Panetta for CIA chief, Barack Obama is sending a signal that he is not going to put up with the kind of nonsense that went on at the agency when George Bush was president.
The war carried out by partisans at the CIA where leaking classified information to undermine policy as well as attempting to defeat the president at the polls in 2004 will not be repeated under the leadership of Panetta, of that you can be certain.
This is a good, smart choice by Obama.The stated reasons - Panetta was not involved in the rendition or torture programs - are good, sound reasons but beyond that, Panetta was known both at OMB where he was director and at the White House where he was chief of staff as a ferocious in-fighter. Obama needs a bulldog at Langely if he is going to be free of the poisonous antagonism that made the relationship between the intelligence agencies and Bush so dysfunctional. Plus, Panetta will clearly be seen as “The President’s Man” - a perception that will come in handy for both men.
This makes him an excellent candidate to deal with the bitter inter-agency battles that destroyed Porter Goss (operations vs. analysis) and hampered Director Hayden whose fights with the Defense department over resources devoted to battlefield or tactical intel at the expense of strategic analysis roiled both shops during the last few years.
Apparently, the choice is not sitting too well with some on the Hill who no doubt had their own candidates in mind or perhaps wished General Hayden to stay on. As for the latter, Obama could not keep Hayden after all but promising his liberal base that he would end the “special rendition” programs begun under Bill Clinton and expanded by the Bush Administration as well as put a halt to torture.
And the shameful case of John Brennan being taken out of consideration for no good reason meant that he could hardly choose someone from inside the agency:
“They were fans of Mike Hayden and [were] hoping he’d be asked to stick around,” the former official said.
This former official said Obama’s transition team was forced away from selecting a career intelligence officer after having been “boxed in” by the withdrawal of leading contender John Brennan.
Brennan, a former senior intelligence official, withdrew his name from consideration last month over concerns about his role in the development of the interrogation and secret detention programs while he was at the CIA.
The official said the withdrawal forced the Obama team to look outside the intelligence community because “by ruling him out, they ruled out anyone who had been in the agency the last eight years or so. When you do that and look around for other people who have the capabilities and qualifications you are looking for, you quickly run out of choices.”
Just what was Brennan’s crime? Well, no one really knows. Those “concerns” about Brennan’s “role” in the development of rendition and torture were, according to M.P. MacConnell, the result of a lot of noise from the usual suspects on the left:
Contrary to false claims, American laws were not broken. No one is going to prison. Nothing even slightly unseemly has been uncovered — indeed, Brennan has a proven history of complete candor in discussing his views on those subjects with the media. There is nothing whatever to suggest that Brennan would disobey the now existing legislative prohibition on the use of waterboarding. He is as entitled to his views as anyone else, and has been both consistent and articulate in expressing them. As a direct result of Brennan’s counsel, some of President-elect Obama’s original national security positions have been reversed.
As Greenwald’s ally, Andrew Sullivan, makes clear, that is their real concern. They seem to be laboring under the impression that their iconic future president doesn’t possess sufficient willpower to resist the poisonous mumblings of a man like Brennan, leading him from the True Path upon which only they are fit to guide him. Their tireless efforts to find something — anything — damaging on Brennan that would discredit him failed abysmally, but the sheer noise that their protestations generated, along with the wild, unconditional, uncritical approbation of their followers, was sufficient to cause Brennan to step down.
My own research has led me to believe that Brennan is neither a zealot for enhanced interrogation techniques, nor an anti-torture advocate. From my view, there was no confusion. Brennan’s statements on the subject were quite consistent — in his opinion, rendition and interrogation were unpleasant and rarely carried out actions that nevertheless brought real, tangible results. In Brennan’s own words, “…lives have been saved.”
Unlike the Greenwalds of this world, he wasn’t a legal theorist, being paid to loaf in an office chair all day, rhapsodising on the ethical dilemmas posed by this program or that operation. He was an officer in a federal agency charged with the wartime security and wellbeing of American citizens. He clearly did bear the ethics in mind, but was also operating within the framework of the real world, dealing in harsh realities against a ruthless enemy, where innocent people died if you didn’t get the job done.
It is an unpleasant fact to contemplate but Brennan’s position on those two sensitive subjects would have been reflected by almost any current intelligence manager. To assuage the likes of Greenwald and Sullivan, then, Obama was virtually forced to seek someone outside the community.
He could not done much better by choosing Panetta. But as I mentioned, there are some detractors on the Hill as incoming Senate intel chair Diane Fienstien is grumbling about not being consulted. And there are a few in the agency who are not happy:
In an interview with ABC News, Scheurer, who headed the CIA unit that hunted Osama bin Laden, labeled Panetta “a Democratic Party apparatchik” who “may be a talented bureaucrat,” but who has little in his resume to suggest he “has any talent for this particular job.”
Scheurer predicts that Panetta’s leadership could have a chilling effect on the agency and that “morale won’t be good” as he “bends” to Congress and “harasses agency officials who ran the rendition and secret prison program.”
A senior intelligence official said that during his tenure Hayden has boosted morale at the agency and “done a lot of good over there at CIA.”
“If in fact such a decision has been made, Mike will leave the place in far better shape than he found it. That’s for sure,” the senior official said.
Scheurer’s comments seem gratuitous. Panetta is certainly not the most partisan Democrat Obama could have chosen and, as one analyst mentioned in the ABC story, the former White House chief of staff knows what the president needs in his daily brief - the PDB, which is probably the most important job the CIA performs in keeping the president on top of what’s going on in the world.
I don’t think Obama is much for radically reforming the CIA at this point which is too bad. In many ways, the agency is stuck in the past and jealously guards its prerogatives and perks while failing to improve its product. But Panetta is not going to CIA to change things. He is going to ride herd on all the competing interests in the intelligence community that have made our fight against Islamic extremism that much harder.