Wednesday, January 07, 2009

More on Panetta

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I don't have much to add to my thoughts from yesterday on the Panetta-to-CIA pick. He may turn out to be just what the CIA needs, a superb organizational leader with fantastic political skills and an inside track to Obama, or he may, given his lack of intelligence experience, fail miserably either to reform the CIA or to rejuvenate it and to make it even more relevant under a friendlier president.

As with many of Obama's appointees, I'll take a wait-and-hope-and-see approach.

According to Charles Faddis, a "retired senior CIA operations officer," quoted by CQ's Jeff Stein, the reaction to the Panetta pick from the rank-and-file at the CIA has been "overwhelmingly negative":

These are people who are sweating blood everyday to make things happen and living for the day that somebody is going to come in, institute real reform and turn the CIA into the vital, effective organization it should be. To them this choice just says that no such changes are impending and that all they can look forward to is business as usual.

Faddis himself is an Obama supporter, but, to him, "Panetta is not the guy we need to run CIA right now," given that "he knows nothing about intelligence, particularly human intelligence."

Still, Panetta has his prominent supporters, including Sen. Evan Bayh, as well as leading intelligence experts like Paul Pillar and Gregory Treverton. And at The Daily Beast, Leslie Gelb writes that Panetta is a great choice -- and exactly what Langley needs:

The next best thing for the CIA and the best thing for the country is to have Leon Panetta in the job. He is a nonpartisan Democrat, a proven manager, a wise man without being a congenital middle-of-the-roader, and someone who truly knows how to navigate between the political pressures that so dominate Washington without being overcome by them.

As I said, we'll see (though, given that it's the CIA, there's a lot that we won't see).

The key, though, is not so much Panetta as Obama. As Michael Crowley puts it, "[t]he far more important and interesting question is what policies Obama will hand down to the CIA from on high, particularly when it comes to whether we will continue a policy of renditioning terror suspects to other countries for 'interrogation.' Panetta is a hard-liner against torture but he was present at the creation of the rendition practice under Bill Clinton in the 1990s -- but it's Obama's call anyway, not his.

Not to take anything away from what the CIA director does, but it's the president who is ultimately responsible. What is needed, post-Bush, is not just organizational reform, but policy reform, and it is Obama who must be the bringer of change.

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