The appointment of Leon Panetta as Director of the CIA was for all tense and purposes a cunning move by President-elect Barack Obama. By not directly seeking the approval of Senator Diane Feinstein and Jay Rockefeller, the President-elect further put on display his ability to show leadership by not seeking the approval of the outgoing and incoming Chairs of the Senate Intelligence Committee, let alone high-ranking Senate Members from his own party. The statements released by both the Senators put on display the lack of respect for Barack Obama and seemed more like a babysitter chastising a child for taking a cookie from the jar without permission. Unfortunately for both Senator Feinstein and Senator Rockefeller, questioning the credibility of a former Presidential Chief of Staff and Iraq Study Group Member about his understanding of the ins and outs of the intelligence world put on display the naïveté, gravitas and egocentric ideals both Senators espoused in their short sighted analysis. The same can be said for the pundits on cable news networks as well. What this should signal to the general public is one thing. Change is coming faster than the establishment can handle, but hopefully this is a change that will ultimately bring back the credibility to both our government and intelligence personnel at home and abroad.
Leon Panetta first and foremost was the Chief of Staff for former President Bill Clinton. I find it hard to fathom the idea that Leon Panetta was able to fulfill his duties as what may be the single most important advisor a President can have without a fundamental understanding of the threats facing this country as provided by both the CIA and FBI. Mr. Panetta undoubtedly was routinely present during the Presidential Intelligence Briefings given to him by either the DCI or one of his top Lieutenants. I did hear Pat Buchanan on Hardball with Chris Matthews say “If he (Panetta) didn’t know about Monica Lewinsky then how much could he have really known?” This only highlights the idiocy of pundits and politicians alike who see a changing of the guard and the old boys and girls club of government coming to a crashing halt. I mean it’s as if Pat Buchanan thought Panetta should have been in the room filming the infamous cigar or dress incident to be posted online alongside the latest Paris Hilton video! Maybe Pat Buchanan is upset that it wasn’t? Given the sex scandals by the most conservative of Republicans, it is a possibility is it not?
Leon Panetta is no doubt political, a quality that the DCI must possess contrary to those who think the DCI must be a former spook. More importantly, he is a Public Policy expert, something those in public policy like the two esteemed Democratic Senators fail to understand. The restoration of credibility and sexiness of being an intelligence officer will require a restoration of both clear policy objectives within a framework based on rule of law, rules of engagement and good old fashioned intelligence gathering by operatives freed from the fear of possibly being prosecuted later on in life for some misstep made in the hills of Afghanistan, Somalia or any other potential trouble spot in the world or detention center.
Granted, the post-9/11 world required some changes to the ways of intelligence gathering and the methodology needed to gather credible intelligence. However, I seem to recall in August of 2001, the Bush Administration received a very credible intelligence brief stating exactly what Usama Bin Laden was poised to do: conduct a terror attack by using commercial passenger airliners as a weapon. Since that unfortunate September morning, rather than begin to take the intelligence gathered by capable and competent operatives seriously, Vice President Cheney and his ilk decided that the United States Intelligence Community was flawed by the strains of International and Domestic Rules of Engagement. That torture was in his opinion, a viable interrogation technique that could garner credible intelligence, despite the overwhelming majority of current and former operatives stating otherwise.
Leon Panetta will restore the limits operatives can use in interrogation techniques, but I do believe he will also utilize the greatest attribute American citizens possess. The ability to empathize with the disenfranchised, show compassion for an individuals cause and belief despite disagreement and display the much need charm and grace to allow someone like an operative access to the most closely knit circles. If this was not the case, then how does one explain the ability to know that UBL was determined to attack the US using commercial passenger airliners?
Finally, the politics a DCI must undertake when dealing with the White House, State Department, the House and Senate and other foreign intelligence services will serve the CIA in the most desperate of area, that is credibility. Since 9/11, the ‘go it alone’ mentality that has come to signify the Bush-Cheney rule of engagement, the US on all fronts must begin a rehabilitation of its image in all corners of the world with both friend and foe. This will take an individual who can be diplomatic and restore confidence in the belief that the US is behaving within its own expectations placed on other nation states. There is no doubt that dealing with terrorist groups will not require the diplomatic dancing necessitated by foreign governments. However, this will require that intelligence officer’s conduct this dance with non-state actors in order to stave off future attacks. Fortunately, operatives will be able to follow the lead by the person most needed to serve as an example. Their boss.