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1/6/2009
PANETTA WILL HAVE OBAMA’S BACK AT CIA

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.

By: Rick Moran at 1:32 pm
21 Responses to “PANETTA WILL HAVE OBAMA’S BACK AT CIA”
  1. 1
    lionheart Said:
    2:27 pm 

    I’m just happy that he didn’t appoint that ass-clown Joe Wilson.

  2. 2
    lionheart Said:
    2:30 pm 

    Or Sandy Berger.

  3. 3
    jackson1234 Said:
    2:32 pm 

    Other than not knowing his ass from a hole in the ground on intelligence and defense matters and foreign affairs, Panetta was an inspired choice. It was a damned shame that Caroline “The Human Wind Tunnel Between the Ears” S. Kennedy had been tagged to be in the Senate.

    Yes, Obama probably will avoid political infighting even if the country glows in the dark in a few months.

    This Administration is a joke before the swearing in.

  4. 4
    Neo Said:
    3:45 pm 

    After reading around a bit about Panetta and the various former spooks that made comments, I get the feeling that the CIA is America’s equivalent of the Gaza Strip.

    Since installation of General Hayden as CIA Director, the furious pouring of leaks out of the CIA, that had undermined the Bush Administration, seemed to come down to a trickle.

    I have this uneasy feeling that the “truce” between the Executive Branch and the CIA is about to come to an end, which means the flood gates on the leaks will open again. Expect to see those “intelliegence missiles” flying all over DC, often landing at the Washington Post, and the other various news organizations etc.

  5. 5
    jarnco5 Said:
    4:04 pm 

    Voice Of Conservative America just visited your site

  6. 6
    bs jones Said:
    4:25 pm 

    Rick,
    You are right. Americans should not tolerate “the kind of nonsense that went on at the agency (CIA)…”

    We know Republicans in the White House have acknowledged that it was crappy intelligence that got us into Iraq. There was a massive pre-war intelligence failure. The CIA can and must do better. Therefore, WE SHOULD NOT WANT SOMEBODY FROM THE INSIDE. The people on the inside are screw ups!!

    Personally, I am worried about Panetta, but, I hope you are right about the Obama pick - that Panetta “is a good smart choice by Obama.” We need a good choice to head this all important agency right now.

    I am confused on one thing. Why are we still beating the drum over Brennan? The Democrat President makes his pick, (excluding people that his base thinks are unacceptable)and if the person nominated at the end of his deliberations is a good man everybody wins.

    I think we would do (and have done) the same thing. Harriet Myers was withdrawn because she was not acceptable to the Republican base(us). This is how politics should work. Leaders should respond to their constituents demands in a democracy.

    Finally, why would anyone listen to this Sheurer? Instead of complaining To the MSM, he should be out looking for Osama! In fact I believe this Scheurer should shut up, step aside, and let somebody competent go get bin Laden!

    Rick, it’s like you said, CIA needs reforming. I, for one, hope the Obama administration is up to the job. It is just too bad we don’t have a competent Republican administration in the White House right now. One that we know could get the job done right.

  7. 7
    Bald Ninja Said:
    4:51 pm 

    So he’s not only qualified but an excellent choice because he will stop infighting and he doesn’t come with any stigma associated with rendition or waterboarding?

    In other words he’s good for the PR and nothing else.

  8. 8
    obamathered Said:
    6:46 pm 

    Let me understand. Obama couldn’t have “done much better” than selecting the singularly unqualified Panetta? Because this political hack can lay a PDB on Obama’s desk and not leak too much makes him a good choice? Hell, Obama could have conducted a lottery among the Capitol Hill Police Department and come up with someone who fit that criteria. Obama has put the nation at grave risk because he lacks the gravitas to surround himself with capable people.

    Stop exaggerating. Panetta is hardly a “political hack” - far from it. He has served at the highest level of government and knows exactly what kind of intel brief the president needs. And if it matters to you at all his experience with managing competing interests at OMB is exactly the kind of manager that’s needed at CIA.

    He’s not going to put on a mustache and go out to spy on anybody. And he has intel experience from his time in the army. Put it all together and you have about as good as you can get going outside the agency.

    I will grant that getting an insider might have been better. But given how the CIA has treated presidents lately, Obama probably made the right choice.

    ed.

  9. 9
    obamathered Said:
    9:16 pm 

    And if it matters to you at all his experience with managing competing interests at OMB is exactly the kind of manager that’s needed at CIA.

    You know, when I close my eyes for some odd reason Burt Lance doesn’t spring to mind as an opportunity missed at CIA. The director doesn’t require a moustache, but in the event you care, the competing interests (largely nerdy bureau jockeys) have specialized skills that would put the number crunchers at OMB to shame. Balancing those interests is far more difficult than simply dropping a brief on the president’s desk, proofing press releases and plugging leaks. The disgruntled careerists, not the directors, have been the problem. Expect that to be exacerbated by the hire of a–and I’ll continue to use the term–political hack. I expect even more leaks and deliberate sabotage of White House policy as a direct result, as Neo pointed out. If there were more substance to and experience behind Obama, he would have gone with someone within the Agency. As it is, PR and a sloppy base pick ruled the day.

  10. 10
    col.smeag Said:
    2:33 am 

    So does anyone actually care that Obama is just a Clinton tool? What happened to CHANGE or HOPE for CHANGE? COME ON !!! Panetta is there because Bill Clinton is holding all the access to foreign money the Dims are in love with. Panetta has never even served in a foreign policy or intelligence position. His main focus of work has been the National Budget. Per wikipedia Panetta has long been an advocate for the health of the world’s oceans….When the heck has a spy from the “World’s Oceans” been caught trying to steal nuclear secrets or blow up Americans. Are you guys so clueless that you have done none of your own research on this guy? Penetta is good at cover ups. He was one the main characters in the Bill Clinton Impeachment. The real question here isn’t whether this is a good choice by Obama, but what exactly is going on that 80% of the Obama staff is from the Clinton Admin?
    Don’t hold out for CHANGE it’s been taken off the shelf due to factory recall.

  11. 11
    sara in va Said:
    7:50 am 

    At age 71, he’s obviously seen a lot. Like, for instance, complete intel failures during the Clinton Administration. Anyone who isn’t excited to have a career politician heading up the country’s security is just too partisan.

    Sorry if I seemed “excited.” That was not my intent. I only pointed out Panetta’s strong points and Obama’s deftness in choosing him. Of course a career CIA officer would probably have been a better choice and I say as much. But given all that had happened during the campaign as well as the torpedoing of Brennan, Obama was left with few good choices.

    ed.

  12. 12
    the Fly-Man Said:
    8:15 am 

    Panetta is the anti- Cheney bromide beyond.I’d be curious to see how well Panetta gets along with Prince Bandar.

  13. 13
    Bald Ninja Said:
    10:04 am 

    “PANETTA WILL HAVE OBAMA’S BACK AT CIA”

    Who will have your back?

  14. 14
    jackson1234 Said:
    12:12 pm 

    Obama said a few things yesterday that indicate he doesn’t think his Panetta choice was particularly inspired. Will Panetta go under the bus? With Obama, that always is a possibility when the president-elect begins to list someone’s good points and none of them pertain to the issue at hand. I’m certain the response from Langley has been less than positive. Obama may have second thoughts on this one. We’ll see. The more I consider it, he chose poorly and that could be the opinion of some of those who can make his four years hell through leaks and the drip drip drip of bureaucratic infighting. In other words, an appointment that was supposed to curtail infighting may increase it dramatically to Obama’s detriment.

  15. 15
    Roger Said:
    9:27 pm 

    Panetta is surely a better choice than the brainiac, Joe the Plumber, who would likely have been the McCain selection.

  16. 16
    for parity Said:
    10:47 pm 

    What does this mean? “…stated reasons – Panetta was not involved in the rendition or torture programs – are good, sound reasons ..” Panetta was there when President Clinton, Al Gore, Berger and Clark ordered the CIA to set up the Extraordinary Rendition program. The Clinton administration, according to the CIA, did about as many renditions as did the Bush admin. The program really was not needed one Gitmo was up and operating, so in effect, Bush ended Clinton’s program of sending these folks off to Egypt or where ever so that they could be tortured by others, their way, for information. As Clinton was quoted as saying, “I don’t care what you do with them.” And Panetta did what?

  17. 17
    Dave Heller Said:
    12:16 pm 

    Actually, Panetta isn’t going to “ride herd” of the competing elements of the intelligence community at all. He’s going to be responsible for the CIA alone… and he will not give the daily briefing to the President. The new Director Of National Intelligence (DNI) will “ride herd” on the competing elements of the Intelligence community, and he gives the Daily Presidential Briefing. Rick Moran - - your ignorance is showing…., and Mike Scheurer was dead-on….Panetta is a partisan hack who’s appointment makes as much sense as having your Pool Boy providing financial advise. He’s a really good Pool Boy so he’ll probably be a good financial advisor — - plus he’s loyal and will watch your back.

    Since you are such an expert, you already know that the CIA still prepares the PDB. And given your vast knowledge of politics, perhaps you could inform us why Panetta is a “hack” - if you even know the meaning of the word - and not a competent manager whose post congressional career has been a distinguished one in both academia and at his own think tank.

    Oh, and you’re right. What was I thinking! There are no “competing interests” at the CIA! Curse me for my ignorance.

    I will say for the third time since it is evident that reading is not one of your stronger skills that yes, Obama could have and probably should have chosen someone from inside the community. For reasons I explain above (echoed by many analysts after I had posted) it wasn’t possible.

    Hence, Panetta is the probably the best choice he could have made under the circumstances.

    ed.

  18. 18
    obamathered Said:
    1:29 am 

    The bottom line is despite his faults, there were no terror attacks of note after 9/11 on el W’s watch. Obama has chosen a clueless pre-9/11 CIA director who happens to have blood on his hands from the Clinton Administration’s willful ignorance. The tiny man who will soon occupy the White House will be solely responsible for any terror attack. The Empty Suit in Chief will be responsible for who he chose to prevent such an attack.

    I’m sorry, Rick, but those of us who have not consumed the Kool-Aid await
    the moment to kick the shit out of the next president. And the day draws nigh.

  19. 19
    bs jones Said:
    10:34 pm 

    obamathered,

    The CIA failed to get bin Laden on Clinton’s watch.
    We got 9/11.

    The CIA failed to get bin Laden on W’s watch.
    When bin Laden attacks again on Obama’s watch, W’s CIA will bear some responsibility.

    The “Empty Suit in Chief” will share responsibility with W for this CIA failure.

  20. 20
    Ron Russell Said:
    9:46 pm 

    Leon Panetta was Clinton’s chief of staff and helped cut the CIA’s connections to the FBI. It was the old democratic party fear of the CIA snooping on americans–I thought 9/11 ended that frame-of-mind, but now I wonder.

  21. 21
    lokidog Said:
    5:09 pm 

    “The bottom line is despite his faults, there were no terror attacks of note after 9/11 on el W’s watch.”

    No, just one huge attack on 9/11, the incompetent Bush’s watch. Those pesky facts can be conveniently ignored by the wingnut right all they want.

    Thinking America remembers.

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