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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Covert Operations: Panetta as CIA Choice

This road runner, hidden in plain sight, is more experienced in covert operations than . . . many people.

Leon Panetta is the President-elect's choice as CIA director. The choice is controversial. Panetta comes to the job with little intelligence experience at a time when the position demands a savvy, smart, dynamic leader who can clean-up the mess left by the Bush Administration, design and implement new strategies for the future, gain the trust of diverse groups, and do this all while keeping America safe. For such an important and demanding position, Mr. Panetta seems, to put it mildly, a weak choice.

Not only is this a disappointing choice as a substantive matter, but procedurally the Obama team made another mistake by deciding to not consult the Democratic Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee about the appointment. Frankly, this was bush league play from people who typically operate at the highest professional levels. Now it will be interesting to watch how this confirmation process plays out.

In the confirmation proceedings Mr. Panetta, 70, will certainly be asked about his lack of intelligence experience. As one expert said yesterday in the New York Times, “This is intelligence, not tax or transportation policy. You can’t hit the ground running by reading briefing books and asking smart questions.”

In the same story, a Panetta supporter suggested Panetta could cure his lack of experience by surrounding himself with good people. This line of thinking is very disturbing because it is the exact thing that people said when George W. Bush was sworn into office as President in 2001. And we've seen how that worked out, haven't we.

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