Obama's chooses Panetta, with help from Wyden?

Carla Axtman

An interesting little story seems to be unfolding surrounding Obama's choice to head the CIA: Leon Panetta. Obama announced the choice yesterday to the surprise of many. Panetta has been a strong critic of Bush Administration policies on interrogation.

The individual most surprised by the pick appears to be Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Feinstein is very publicly questioning the pick, stating that she thinks Panetta doesn't have the right kind of experience to do the job. Outgoing Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is making similar noise.

But there's another who serves on the Intelligence Committee who is giving a rather glowing response to Obama's choice of Panetta: Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden:

Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who is a member of the Intelligence Committee, called Mr. Panetta a “strong choice” who “has the skills to usher in a new era of accountability at the nation’s premier intelligence agency.”

Wyden's office has confirmed to Talking Points Memo that Senator Wyden was consulted on the Panetta choice. Feinstein was clearly caught off guard by the decision, and thus was not brought into the loop. TPM asks two very relevant questions on this: 1.Was Feinstein deliberately left out or was the transition team simply beaten to the punch? 2. Who else on the Intel Cmte knew about Panetta?

It's apparent that while Feinstein may have reservations about Panetta to head the CIA, part of her public display on this may be due the fact that the New York Times knew about the choice before she did.

There's also some political friction history between Feinstein and Panetta. In 1998, both withdrew from the California governor's race. Feinstein withdrew late and Panetta blamed her publicly for his inability to gain momentum in the process.

Another piece to the puzzle that nobody seems to be discussing: Wyden is next in line to chair the Senate Intelligence Committee. Rockefeller may have seniority (I'm checking on this one) but he's already chairing Commerce--so he can't have Intelligence. If Feinstein runs for Governor of California and wins, Wyden takes over.

I wonder if keeping Feinstein in the dark has anything to do with her public support of the horrific Michael Mukasey? Obama appears to be going out of his way to instigate a sea change when it comes to interrogations and intelligence. And does the historically close relationship with Wyden and Panetta help that sea change along?

  • backbeat (unverified)

    It is very clear what the problem is: The Gang of Eight, which included DiFi, Rockefeller, Harmon, etc. feel the law breathing down their wimpy necks. They secretly approved the torture, the spying on American citizens, the illegal wiretaps on Americans, the whole thing. She was perfectly fine with the "pResident's" picks such as Goss, etc. but is willing to challenge Obama? The Gang of Eight was actively complicit with the bush administration's trashing of The Constitution. Time for you to move on, DiFi. You've helped your defense-industry husband enough now. Just be lucky you won't be tried for treason and war crimes.


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    While I wholeheartedly agree with backbeat's critique of the Gang of Eight, I have to say that Feinstein raises a legit question. What qualifies Panetta for this position?

  • Tom Carter (unverified)

    I'm a fan of Panetta. He's a smart guy and a good administrator. I don't doubt that Feinstein and Rockefeller are complaining because they got left out of the decision, which tends to reduce their credibility, along with the other political considerations.

    On a more serious note, what worries me about Panetta is his lack of experience in intelligence operations and management. What's really need at both DNI and the major intelligence agencies, of which CIA is only one, are leaders who are smart, skilled administrators and who understand at least the basics of operations and technical issues. I realize that some people are almost totally focused on the issue of interrogations and "torture," but that's a very small part of a very big set of problems.

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    The first thing in my mind that qualifies Panetta is his aggressive criticism of Bush's interrogation policies. Second, he has a lot of foreign policy and management experience.

    One of Panetta's biggest obstacles (should he be confirmed) will be wrangling an agency that's historically been very unfriendly to those it considers "outsiders".

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    The way Washington works the Cabinet member is usually the guy that represents the agency to the public and sets policy and the Deputy Secretary(or in this case the Deputy Director)runs the operations. If the Deputy Director is someone with operational experience the Director should not be required to also have that experience. Hillary has never worked in the State Department or even managed any bureaucracy, but I believe she can run the State Department with the assistance of a strong Deputy.

    The basic problems at the CIA today is the environment created by Bush/Cheney and everyone there is tainted by it. Panetta solves that problem. Without someone like him the CIA will not have credibility amongst the Obama administration, nor with the public.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    Clearly the issue here about naming an agency insider is that they are all tainted with their compliance with torture and with the WMD lies. Panetta has been a competent player who was Chief of Staff for Clinton and knows how to deal with the political world.

  • Mike s. (unverified)

    This is great news. Panetta will be nice to our enemies. I can just see Panetta having little tea parties with terrorists. How lovely.

    Allah Akbar!

    BTW, what's the word on Blogovitch? Remember, good democrats hate corruption!

  • Torridjoe (unverified)

    Pretty sure panetta sat in on the Clinton daily briefings, so he certainly knows how that all works. He should have an easy time with clearance, too.

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    This is great news. Panetta will be nice to our enemies. I can just see Panetta having little tea parties with terrorists. How lovely.

    Cuz the Bush Administration's policies have worked out so well with all our enemies.....no wonder the US electorate and the rest of the world are clamoring for more of that.


  • Jeff Alworth (unverified)

    On TPM, Josh reprints an email from a 29-year intel vet who likes Panetta. His main point:

    I think there is a lot more here than is being said. I believe that Feinstein did not want someone like Panetta who has a large and independent power base and network. If you get a career guy they are a lot easier to isolate and move around. Panetta has been around for a long time and has his own network. I actually think that it is a good choice. He knows how intelligence needs to be presented to the President - that is the critical issue here.... I think the Panetta selection is another indication of the change coming. I was concerned that the selection of Jones as National Security Advisor and Blair as DNI underscored the great concern that I have about the militarization of intelligence. The selection of Panetta, with a much wider and deeper power base than either of them, makes me hopeful in this regard. Panetta is a skilled operator, he knows how to get things done. He knows how to get a budget approved and to make the wheels of government work. He will be a force - both in the Administration and on the Hill -- much larger than any career guy could be. This is good. It gives the CIA the opportunity to re-create itself within the current structure.

    It's one man's opinion, but it's persuasive. I know Backbeat and I aren't alone in finding Feinstein's behavior over the past 8 years shockingly compliant with Dubya. That she dislikes Panetta (one of the few really stellar members of Clinton's team) sort of confirms that he's a good choice, doesn't it? Plus, our man Ron gives him a thumbs up. What more do you need?

  • LT (unverified)

    Mike s. -- Panetta was a member of the Iraq Study Group. Are you denigrating all members of that group or only Panetta? What is your view of Lee Hamilton, who likes the choice of Panetta?

    Military veteran, worked as a staffer in DC before being elected to Congress ---and defeated a Republican incumbent to become a Congressman.

    I spent 7th-12th grade in the Carmel school district, a K-8 school in Carmel Valley when we first moved there, and then 4 years at Carmel High School. I have long followed his career and am a big Panetta fan. He was Clinton's Chief of Staff, and he was a member of the Iraq Study Group. He has no real ties to what has gone on in the CIA or elsewhere the last 8 years, and he is known as an excellent manager. So why shouldn't he be considered CIA director?

  • Greg D. (unverified)

    In the last 8 years, all you needed to run the CIA was a car battery and a set of jumper cables with a special testicle adapter on one end. I assume Dick Cheney will send Panetta a set as part of his congratulatory message.

    Hopefully Obama and Pantetta will abandon torture (oops, sorry, "special interrogation measures") and return the US to credibility in the world.

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    I was wondering if Wyden was going to be on the side of the Panetta pick, and was actually planning to call his office tomorrow about it to express my hope that he would come out in support of him. I'm really glad to see that statement, Carla.

    It doesn't take a spook to run the CIA. The lack of spookiness didn't keep GHW Bush from assuming the post (however briefly) back in the '70s. The CIA job needs someone with some sense to tell people what to do and especially what not to do -- before they do it and screw things up. I mean really, could Panetta be worse than George Tenet (who had 9/11 happen on his watch) or Porter Goss (who drove out some of the most experience CIA hands because they weren't Bush loyalists), both of whom had "intelligence" experience?

    If Panetta can finally act on tweezing the odious John Rizzo out of office as acting CIA General Counsel (where he's been for most of the Bush administration) that would be sweet.

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    What's really caught my attention here is Wyden's apparent involvement in consulting on this appointment. Whether he was consulting with the Obama transition team or Panetta himself doesn't seem entirely clear yet. But he's clearly involved beyond merely voicing support.

    I hope lots of Oregonians call Wyden's office to congratulate him on this one.


  • Gregor (unverified)

    It seems to me Josh Marshall at TPM has it right. Feinstein was sent a message when she realized things were happening directly related to her committee without her input. What else could she do but run to the MSM and whine about it. Then, just to show she has some power, she supports Burris becoming Senator, against the wishes of Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid.

    I'm looking forward to see what else Obama has up his sleeve. He forgot to talk to her? Right. Everyone involved in these discussions "forgot" to talk to her.

    Oh, and the fact that Wyden was part of a discussion eases my concern that Obama would replicate Dubya's policy of ignoring Congress altogether. Obama chose wise advisors to address the issue. Feinstein was not considered same.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    Great choice. You have to choose from what's on the table. Consider the options.

  • Unrepentant Liberal (unverified)

    Dear Mike small s. We wouldn't have so many enemies except for the fact that you boys Bush Cheney et all kept on torturing and murdering scores of innocent people for the last seven years. Of course their families want to do us harm, wouldn't you in a similar situation?

    Making enemies may be the only one true talent George the Murderer and Dick the Cheney possess.

    Panetta will do better.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)

    I hadn't even thought of Panetta until the news broke, but I find it a good choice. DiFi's claim of inexperience is complete horseshit, the couple of "pros" we've had in the last several decades made a hash of it and it isn't required to run the place.

    Managerial skills are a considerably different thing than intelligence gathering and data analysis and Panetta is serious management material and the business he'll manage is scarcely out of his realm of experience as CoS for Clinton.

    As for Mike s. - pal, I consider you a lot larger threat than Arabs or Muslims. Ah well, not being Bushites we'll just have to let you breath.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)


    <h2>It's not "Bushshites"? I thought there we two "s"s. So hard to tell the difference.</h2>

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