07 Jan 2009

Panetta Appointment Sinking

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Most blogs produced by retired Intelligence Community professionals are either moderately or severely negative.

Jeff Stein quotes a retired operations officer:

A retired senior CIA operations officer who quit last summer after 20 years tracking terrorists says the rank-and-file reaction to President-elect Obama’s choice of Leon E.Panetta to run the spy agency has been “overwhelmingly negative.”

Charles “Sam” Faddis, who led a CIA team into northern Iraq before the 2003 invasion, says he had “already heard from a large number of rank and file within CIA on this choice, and the reaction has been overwhelmingly negative.”

Faddis added:

    “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.”

A number of field operatives have voiced similar sentiments to me since word spread Monday that Obama had chosen Panetta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton known for his budget expertise, to run the CIA. Panetta was also a Democratic congressman from the Monterey area of California from 1977 to 1993.

“His credentials do not warrant the appointment, especially in a wartime footing,” said one CIA operative who has been pursuing al Qaeda in Afghanistan, in a typical remark.

Faddis, who was working on nuclear nonproliferation issues when he left the agency in May after 20 years as a covert operator, called Panetta “a disappointing choice.”

    “I am a big supporter of President-Elect Obama,” Faddis added, “but Panetta is not the guy we need to run CIA right now. He may be a very good man. (But) he knows nothing about intelligence, particularly human intelligence” — recruiting and managing spies

“The central problem at CIA is that it is not doing a very good job of collecting the information it was created to collect,” Faddis said.

    “To fix that you need to get down in the weeds and really address the nuts and bolts of how CIA is performing its mission. You cannot do that unless you understand the business, and, frankly, you probably can’t do it unless you have been out on the street doing the work yourself.”…

Voices from below decks insist that’s not enough to get a grip on what they call a self-serving, insular corps of middle managers in the clandestine service, which, they say, has become hidebound and risk adverse.

“When Panetta ends up sitting in a room with the senior ‘spooks’ from the agency, and they start with the smoke and mirrors and obfuscation, how is he going to cut through that?” Faddis asked, echoing a common view. “He’s not.”

“No matter how well intentioned he is or how intelligent, he does not have the background. He does not even speak their language. He will end up like Porter Goss did, sitting in an office, talking on the phone, and, at ground level, nothing will change,” Faddis maintained.


Spook 86 (20 year veteran of military intelligence):

Mr. Obama is entitled to the CIA Director of his choice. But the selection of Leon Panetta is a reflection of the next commander-in-chief and his own, limited intelligence experience. A few weeks ago, the president-elect named retired Navy Admiral Dennis Blair as the new Director of National Intelligence. Like Mr. Panetta, Admiral Blair has a long resume as a leader and administrator. But in terms of intel, his only experience is as a consumer.

The big-picture view is even more disturbing. President-elect Obama, a man who is decidedly short on national security experience, has appointed a pair of neophytes to fill our most important intelligence positions. Those men, in turn, are supposed to advise him on the most critical (and sensitive) intel and national security issues. That planned “arrangement” doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. …

Panetta may be a sop to liberal bloggers and activists who torpedoed John Brennan, the CIA veteran said to be Mr. Obama’s first choice to run the agency. Brennan was unacceptable to those elements of the Obama coalition because of his support for the “forceful” interrogation of suspected terrorists.


Emily Francona
(former Air Force officer and staff member, U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence):

Given the complexity of intelligence issues and the many real or perceived intelligence failures in the history of that agency, a thorough professional understanding of the intelligence profession is indispensable for effective leadership of the CIA. It is precisely because this agency needs reforms to produce more timely and actionable intelligence for U.S. national security decision-making, that its director must understand the capabilities and limitations of the intelligence business, and not be fooled by insiders’ ability to “wait out one more director.”

Some of the very qualifications touted by Panetta’s fans are not desired or needed by a director: he does not need “the ear of the president” since that is the function of the DNI. Nor does this position require political savvy, since that is not a function of any intelligence agency director. In fact, it would be downright counterproductive, given repeated criticism of the “politicization of intelligence” in recent years. …

Mr. Panetta: with all due respect to your fine public policy credentials, decline this appointment for the good of the intelligence community and the decision makers it serves. You would make an effective governor of California!


MacRanger aka Jack Moss (retired Army):

Well for that matter why not pick Al Franken, or James Carvell, or even Chris Matthews? Too bad he’ll fly through the surrender-crat senate for confirmation. Hopefully though he get’s ZERO cooperation from the field and he get’s “set up for failure”, so that his term is short. This should tell you all you want to know about how serious Obama takes our national security. But then again he did say that his goal was to disarm us didn’t he? …

His only qualification seems to be his stance against interrogation techniques that have saved thousands of lives.


But Valerie Plame’s pal, retired CIA officer Larry Johnson pooh poohs the Intelligence experience requirement, and argues that the CIA director just needs to be well tuned to the foreign policies perspectives of the liberal establishment so that he can keep the President ot of trouble with the New York Times.

I am a tad amused by the insistence that we need a CIA director with “intelligence” experience. Really? Then why in the hell is the CIA Headquarters named for a guy who was, by this criteria, one of the least experienced CIA Director’s ever named. I refer of course to George H. W. Bush. …

In terms of temperament Leon Panetta reminds me a lot of Bush 41. Both are politicians but neither seemed to relish the partisan blood feuds that have become the norm in Washington over the last twenty years.

But Panetta has some decided advantages over George Bush Sr. Unlike Bush senior, he served as White House Chief of Staff and headed up the Office of Management and Budget. So he actually goes into the job with more management experience the Bush 41 ever had. …

Do we want someone who has been to a CIA training center and completed the Field Officer’s Training Course? Sorry, I do not think any of the CIA Directors in the last fifty years have done that. Richard Helms and William Colby had OSS experience. I don’t think they ever did FOTC.

Do we want someone who understands the difference between intelligence collection and intelligence analysis? Absolutely. And I think Panetta meets that bill. Do we want someone who understands how certain decisions based on imprecise or inadequate information can damage irreparably a Presidency? Yes! …

Does Leon Panetta have the personal strength to tell a President keen on pursuing a foreign fiasco to steer clear? I do not know the answer to that.

If the answer is ‘no” then the legacy of Panetta at the CIA is already foretold. He will be another war story about a bad Director. If the answer is “yes” then we may be on the threshold of an era of enlightened leadership at the CIA. I hope for the sake of our country that it is the latter and not the former. I am certain of this–Leon Panetta has enough experience in Washington to know what will destroy you and what is truly lasting. I believe he is smart enough to seek the latter.


They leaked all over George W. Bush, and now spooks disgruntled by Obama’s choice of an outsider to head the Agency have run right over to tell their troubles to the Washington Post, which dutifully obliges with a helpful headline: Obama Is Under Fire Over Panetta Selection .

Meanwhile, in a press interview reported by the New York Times, Obama seemed to be backing carefully away from the Panetta appointment.

Question: Some are – some are questioning Leon Panetta’s lack of intelligence – lack of experience on intelligence matters. Sorry about that. I know this is tricky for you since you haven’t announced it yet, but what does he bring to the table for you?

Obama: Well, as you noted, I haven’t made – haven’t made a formal announcement about my intelligence team.

(cell phone rings)

Obama: That may be him calling now… finding out where it’s at.

Obama: I have the utmost respect for Leon Panetta. I think that he is one of the finest public servants that we have. He brings extraordinary management skills, great political savvy, an impeccable record of integrity.

As chief of staff, he is somebody who – to the president – he’s somebody who obviously was fully versed in international affairs, crisis management, and had to evaluate intelligence consistently on a day-to-day basis.

Having said all that, I have not made an announcement.

It looks like Leon Panetta had better start reading the job ads all over again.

One Feedback on "Panetta Appointment Sinking"


The rank-and-file didn’t like The Admiral (Stansfield Turner) either and they sure complained…but Jimmy Carter put him in anyway. Choosing a DCI was not within the Jimmy Carter/Bert Lance field of expertise, therefore not a priority concern. This may provide a useful parallel to Obamaland.


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