When President-elect Obama first named Leon Panetta to head the CIA,
there were a lot of objections from within his own party. Not to
Panetta personally, he is well liked. But his qualifications.

This was the tenor at the time, little over a week ago.

The controversy over Panetta’s selection underscores the
difficulty the Obama team had in finding someone to run the CIA. Their
goal was to find someone that they did not feel was tainted by an
association with President Bush’s intelligence policies, including
harsh interrogations, wireless wiretapping, and the secret transfer of
prisoners to other governments…

Diane Feinstein, the California Democrat who will chair the Senate
Intelligence Committee in the new Congress, responded pointedly to
reports of Panetta’s pending selection. “I was not informed about the
selection of Leon Panetta to be the CIA director,” she said in a
statement. Feinstein went on to say that, “My position has consistently
been that I believe the agency is best served by having an intelligence
professional in charge at this time.”

Meanwhile, Congressional Quarterly quoted an aide to West Virginia
Senator Jay Rockefeller, the outgoing Democratic Chairman of the
Intelligence Committee, as saying, “Sen. Rockefeller has some concerns
about his selection. Not because he has any concerns about Panetta,
whom he thinks very highly of, but because he has no intelligence
experience and because he has believed this has always been a position
that should be outside of the political realm.”

Obama got the party to fall in line behind his pick, for the most part, and some of these objections were withdrawn or reversed.

But some of Panetta’s admirers, who have experience in intelligence work, have some reservations. Parse this piece in USA Today recently, complimentary as it is, and it leaves you wondering where intelligence is heading.

The concern surrounding President-elect Barack Obama’s
choice of Leon Panetta to head the agency is that the new
administration is placing greater weight on the CIA’s image and
reputation than on the intelligence the president needs to lead
effectively. Addressing that concern will be Panetta’s first order of
business, both in his confirmation hearing and after taking over at CIA.

It’s not quite ’style over substance’, but we don’t want the Central Intelligence Agency to be so image driven.

After 9/11 and the spectacular misjudgments concerning
Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, the agency began to focus
less on the machinations of the CIA and more on the quality of
intelligence the president receives. Now, the trend is in the other
direction, toward a concern over what the CIA does and how it does it,
a shift propelled by objections to torture, secret prisons, domestic
surveillance and America’s tarnished reputation around the world.

The enemies of America are probably pleased about that surveillance part, at the very least.

But a little futher down, this snip caught my attention:

Panetta is a highly respected legislator and
administrator with an affable personality, well-honed political savvy
and a keen intellect capable of penetrating quickly to the core of
complex issues. He is not overly partisan, having begun his career as a
Republican and switching to the Democratic Party during the Nixon
presidency. His credentials as House Budget Committee chairman and
President Clinton’s budget director are decidedly centrist, having
played a key role in efforts to curb spending and balance the budget in
the early and mid-1990s. One offshoot of that effort, of course, was
several consecutive years of cuts in spending on U.S. intelligence.

Of course? Examine that for a moment…

As budget director, Panetta saw fit to cut spending on U.S.
intelligence for several years. What happened during those years? The
Mogadishu uprising occurred that led to the ‘Blackhawk Down’
incident and U.S. forces casualties followed by evacuation from
Somalia. The first World Trade Center bombing and the Luxor massacre in
Egypt took place, both linked to Osama bin Laden. In 1995 the CIA
learned that the Sudanese government was looking to expel bin
Laden, but the US backed off involvement in any deal. They were years
leading up to the bombing of the USS Cole, an attack that was believed
to be organized and directed by bin Laden. Also, the years leading up
to the millennium attacks plots.

So in that confirmation hearing, could somebody please ask the
affable Panetta to explain those cuts, and how he now intends to head
that intelligence agency?

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....