Why Leon Panetta May Be the Right Man for CIA Chief

Given the extent to which President-elect Barack Obama previously positioned himself on the left wing of the Democratic Party, his appointments in the areas of national security and defense have been remarkable in the degree to which the worst fears of conservatives have not come to pass. Robert Gates as secretary of defense would have been a dream pick for a McCain administration and former commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Jones is someone I wish President Bush had chosen as his wartime national security adviser. The immediate howls of protest from liberal Senate Intelligence Committee members and chairmen that greeted Leon Panetta's nomination to head the CIA are genuine in their rage. For many reasons, conservatives and advocates of a reinvigorated, reinvented, depoliticized CIA may end up being quite happy with the tenure of Director Panetta.

While Panetta is himself a partisan Democrat who on paper has had no direct experience with intelligence matters, he brings to the table some exceptional qualifications:

  • As a former director of OMB, Panetta had the very rare "super-user" access at OMB that permitted him to review line item requests of the super-secret "black budget" of the entire intelligence community (IC). Few DCIs in the history of the CIA began the job with the perspective of funding, internal budgeting, and program expenditure in intelligence community matters of Leon Panetta.

  • As the former White House chief of staff, Panetta was often present for the president's daily brief (now the responsibility of the DNI, then of the CIA). While Panetta may not know the best practice in an intel analytical process, he has more than enough experience to recognize a shoddy intelligence product and to demand better performance.