January 6th, 2009

Panetta: Obama makes an unintelligent choice for head of intelligence

For a supposedly intelligent man, Obama has made an especially poor choice in his reported choice of Leon Panetta as CIA chief.

To say Panetta is inexperienced in intelligence would be an understatement. He is profoundly inexperienced, even more so than other previous CIA chiefs who came from a basically non-intelligence background. His main qualification appears to be that he was President Clinton’s chief of staff, and yet nevertheless supported Obama in his campaign against Hillary.

Well, I guess the Panetta appointment represents “change.” And we can only “hope” it doesn’t lead to a further and dangerous undermining of the already troubled CIA.

It is a mark of Panetta’s profound lack of qualifications for the job that even Democrat partisans such as incoming chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Diane Fienstein and departing chairman John D. Rockefeller sounded stunned and displeased. Feinstein was particularly upset that she had not been consulted about the choice—never a good move for an incoming President trying to work and play well with Congress—and she made it clear she would have preferred someone with a background in intelligence.

This doesn’t mean Panetta’s confirmation is truly threatened, however. It appears that whatever Obama wants, Obama will get.

The real problem that seems to have led to the appointment of such a complete outsider was that everyone with any sort of background in intelligence was considered tainted by ties to the supposedly nefarious Bush-era CIA, which approved controversial techniques such as waterboarding.

So Obama decided to throw out the baby (intelligence) with the bathwater (coercive interrogation techniques). To find a CIA head with the properly squeaky clean hands, Obama had to find one with no hands-on experience at all. Panetta fit the bill, since he not only had the requisite lack of background, but he had also been outspoken in his condemnation of all CIA practices that could conjure up any suggestion that they might arguably represent torture. Therefore he was doubleplusgood.

Panetta’s inexperience might not have made that much of a difference with a President who was not a complete neophyte himself. But unfortunately, Obama has no more credentials than Panetta has in that arena. What’s more, Obama recently appointed as Director of National Intelligence retired Navy Admiral Dennis Blair, who likewise has no experience in intelligence.

This makes for quite a troika. As blogger “Spook86,” who represents himself as being a former intelligence officer, says, it “doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.” No, not exactly.

It’s not as though we are in an era right now in which intelligence is relatively unimportant. It is widely conceded that it is vital. Does Obama not think so? Does he consider it an afterthought? Does he feel that PC considerations and placating the left wing of his party trump finding a competent person to head the intelligence community? Or does he think all that’s required is to be a good administrator, and the rest can be learned on the job? If so, is this an extension of the hubris that has plagued him from the very start of his campaign?

[ADDENDUM: The WSJ wonders if this signals an upcoming purge in the CIA of all persons associated with the “torture” years. If so, the entire agency would end up staffed by neophytes. How very reassuring that would be.]

33 Responses to “Panetta: Obama makes an unintelligent choice for head of intelligence”

  1. Y-not Says:

    To say Panetta is inexperienced in intelligence would be an understatement.

    I think it’s even worse than that. Panetta does have some experience dealing with spying — Chinagate.

  2. dane Says:

    Paying off debts – during the time of Clinton (maybe earlier) the CIA became increasingly politicized and like most government agencies the longtime employees are predominantly liberal. Department of State is like this also and it became very evident during the Valerie Plame case, investigation, and Libby trial. Armitage (deputy director of state) was the one who outed her, Powell knew, and yet they did not come forward to clear up the situation. Instead they allowed millions of taxpayer dollars to be wasted on an investigation and trial when a phone call could have cleared the whole thing up. I need to correct myself when I say Plame was “outed”. Everyone around Washington knew – in fact at parties her husband used to introduce her as “my wife – the spy”.

    As far as Panetta goes I think he is an okay guy – but even in the Clinton White House as chief of staff he was privy to almost nothing. Bad, bad choice. Never mind that he has no background in intelligence I don’t think he even possesses the administrative or organizational skills to run that agency – and I do not think he will be able to control his subordinates because I do not believe they will have any respect for him.

    I think there are a few democratic congresspeople who have sat on the intelligence committees that could have filled the position without the “taint’ on them.

    Again – paying debts. But it’s dangerous because it’s like giving your buddy who has no construction appearance the contract to build a bridge over the Mississippi that carries thousands of cars a day. Scary.

  3. DirtyJobsGuy Says:

    Once again a guy with no real executive experience succeeds in DC under Obama (who has no executive experience).

    His lack of intelligence experience is not as critical as that of top command experience. He’s got to herd the cats without any real ability to penalize any of them. The job really needs a Wild Bill Donovan again, someone with enough charisma to deter the underlings from excessive leaking and whispering. But charisma is reserved for Obama.

  4. Stark Says:

    The Panetta appointment appears to be another “bone headed” decision. This is a reflection on the people that are advising the President Elect, as well as his own judgement. If Leon was not out of work, it would be easier for him to gracefully decline based on his lack background to do the job competently.

  5. colorless.blue.ideas Says:

    I think that dane hit the nail on the head concerning the politicized CIA. I won’t comment more on that.

    What’s more, Obama recently appointed as Director of National Intelligence retired Navy Admiral Dennis Blair, who likewise has no experience in intelligence.

    I am not overly impressed with ADM Blair’s appointment, either, but ’tis about the best that we could expect from an Obama administration. However, ADM Blair does have significant intelligence experience, at least as an end-user, as well as tours on the National Security Council staff and as Associate Director of Central Intelligence for Military Support. If I recollect aright, he also has a slight personal relationship with Bill Clinton from their Rhodes scholarship days.

    The wikipedia entry for him has other information, including some which indicates that Chicago-style politics would not be unknown to him.

  6. goesh Says:

    Today’s Intel is as good as your tomorrow gets, today is the best your tomorrow can be. Risk and reach will be minimized within the agency because Section heads know its their heads on the block, not the head of the inexperienced political apointee. It’s too bad – Hamas, Hizbullah, Al Qeada and Iran are not going away along with a number of other potential hot spots that can really change the course of history quickly.

  7. Tom Says:

    Reminds me of the selection of jurors. Only the truly ignorant and unaware are deemed untainted enough to be seated.
    At least the Bamster didn’t pick Jamie Gorelick (yet). May Allah help us all.

  8. nolanimrod Says:

    Well, Neo, you have to consider the context. Having a CIA chief with a lot of intelligence experience would seem to be an unfair waste of talent. The CIA is, after all, largely staffed by Harvard and Yale grads who missed, entirely missed the fact that the enemy who had us keeping fleets of B-52’s loaded with H-bombs up in the air at all times so they couldn’t surprise us was about to cease to exist as a political entity.

    Then there was the blowing up of the Chinese embassy during the Kosovo thing, the aspirin factory, and of course 9-11. During the W years they leaked all their secrets to the New York Times. This is more of a job for Inspector Clouseau or Bullwinkle the Moose than somebody who actually knows what he is doing.

  9. Scottie Says:

    (Note to self…don’t be at any location deemed a likely target of terrorism on 9-11-2009….)

  10. Colin Says:

    Not encouraging. Strategy Page had a blurb up around a month ago regarding a turf war in the CIA about the usage of civilian intelligence assets and private ‘agencies’. Apparently the Civilian groups are often dumbfounded by how ill informed their governmental counterparts are. If the top is inexperienced, the middle is too politicized, and the bottom too pigheaded to use non-agency sources, just what is left?


  11. Trimegistus Says:

    By appointing a loyal hack as CIA chief, Obama is making sure he won’t be annoyed by any facts which contradict his Narrative.

  12. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    I am trying to think who would make me feel inspired as CIA director. As the agency is seriously disfunctional, an insider would be worrisome.

    Can we outsource it to the Israeli’s?

  13. Baklava Says:

    Neo wrote, “For a supposedly intelligent man, Obama

    That was the assertion…

    I don’t find his economics knowledge to be noteworthy. The media ignored his gaffe’s also.

    Neo wrote, “if this signals an upcoming purge in the CIA of all persons associated with the “torture” years

    Heaven forbid 3 people were waterboarded… my lord we are as bad as the terrorists – stupid leftists…

  14. Amused Cynic » Blog Archive » “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body” revealed to be….Monty Python’s “Arugument Clinic”… Says:

    […] Neo-neocon on our apparent unilateral intelligence disarmament. Category: College, Uncategorized  |  Comment (RSS) […]

  15. Boris Badanov Says:

    This is more of a job for Inspector Clouseau or Bullwinkle the Moose than somebody who actually knows what he is doing.

    Natasha! Now we get Squirrel and Moose!

  16. Ymarsakar Says:

    Somebody just spammed a lot of your comments in older threads, Neo.

  17. SteveH Says:

    Maybe Panetta was picked to give the CIA a new more likable image and better govt pensions. You know, the important stuff to a liberal.

  18. Occam's Beard Says:

    I was critical of the Panetta decision too, until I read this.

    I have no idea what agenda this guy might have, but as he makes a considerable amount of sense, and is not obviously partisan, his views deserve serious consideration. It’d be great to think Obama is about to fix the CIA, if necessary in the veterinary sense.

  19. Gringo Says:

    There was a substantial contingent in the CIA that undermined Bush by leaking selected documents to the MSM. Well before 2008 in response to this, some on the right had proposed dismantling the CIA.

    So in a sense, Obama is simply finishing the job.
    The only problem here would be if one would still expect certain performance from the CIA.

  20. Gringo Says:

    This is more of a job for Inspector Clouseau or Bullwinkle the Moose than somebody who actually knows what he is doing.

    Some time back, in response to some talking about the nefarious CIA, torturer and destroyer of democratic governments etc. ( Mossadegh in Iran etc.) I replied that today the CIA is so degraded in its capabilities that it couldn’t rig a school board election in Frostbite Falls. There is something about the current CIA that inspires comparison to Rocky and Bullwinkle.

  21. Don Says:

    Reminds me of the selection of jurors. Only the truly ignorant and unaware are deemed untainted enough to be seated.

    Yep. When I almost sat on a jury, all of us who were engineers, and all who new what “tort reform” was recieved the boot.

  22. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    The CIA has become an adversarial agency within government, as has the State Department, while at the same time, like the State Department, it is just barely competent. Appointing such an unqualified person as Panetta insures that those time-servers and ideologues that apparently staff most of the CIA will run rings around him. If you don’t even know the terminology, much less the tradecraft, technology or the real history of the agency and where the bodies are buried, how can you possibly make decisions that have any reasonable chance of being correct, know who is lying to you and who is not, who is really competent and who is just blowing smoke up your ass, and how can you run such an organization and be an effective leader?

    Answer. You can’t.

  23. FredHjr Says:

    Break it all down and take a hard look at what has become of the CIA. I think the Church Hearings of the Seventies killed it, and the 1978 FISA made sure that the CIA was managed by House and Senate committee people. The essence of intel gathering is

    a. ability to improvise

    b. stealth means everything

    If you have to divulge all black ops and get permission for them, too many eyes see what is happening. People on the Hill, staffers, and people in the State Department have thick dossiers of incidents where they talked and leaked. Most of the time, they do it to settle scores and scuttle policy.

    The CIA is no longer an effective organization. It is a huge waste of the taxpayer’s dollars. It could not serve the nation well to save its own life. I would argue that the best outcome would be to break it apart and put the better parts under Defense and State departments.

    What the Agency did to President Bush for the past eight years inclines me to be very uncharitable in my feelings about the CIA. Wouldn’t bother me if someone did the sensible thing and shot it in the head.

    Panetta is not going to make any difference with respect to the condition of the CIA and its inability to excel at HUMINT. It does not even have agents and station chiefs in many countries. The only thing Panetta is hired to do is to make sure the CIA does not do to President Obama what it did to President Bush.

  24. Danny Lemieux Says:

    Thanks for the link, Occam’s Beard. Ishmael Jones has to be taken seriously.

    Maybe there is hope that we will be in for more than just government as performance art for the next four years.

  25. Pat Says:

    Panetta is there to protect Obama from the CIA. Bush was under constant attack from that ineffective bureaucratic cancer and never did get it under control. Porter Goss anyone? Obama has to do hard stuff, like ramp up the war in Afghanistan, and the CIA traitors won’t like that. Panetta is there to stomp on them. Obama is going to rely on Gates and Petreaus for his intelligence.

  26. Gray Says:

    Panetta is there to stomp on them. Obama is going to rely on Gates and Petreaus for his intelligence.

    Wow. That’s optimism in action. I dearly hope you are right, but I have no previous evidence to believe that.

    I have some cynicism in action for you: It doesn’t matter who he appoints as CIA Director, they really couldn’t do any worse: The CIA has as much to do with intelligence as the Department of Education has to do with teaching 8th graders math.

    My previous evidence? I had the misfortune of working with them a little in the 90s. It was a very nice AIDS Quilt in the lobby at Langley, but it really didn’t help protect America; as we all learned on 9/11.

    Remember Mike Spann http://www.honormikespann.org/

    Under supported; undermanned; unbelievable….

  27. Perfected democrat Says:

    Maybe there is hope that we will be in for more than just government as performance art for the next four years.”

    A well coined line, except, it’s exactly backwards and becoming quite clear that “performance art” is all we are going to get. Obama isn’t interested in American national security or “intelligence”, he never was, other than recently suggesting that he “thought” about enlisting in the military, but the war was over… a joke really, is anyone gullible enough to believe that? I’m getting repetitive here, but this is a (formerly) United States Senator who did everything possible, personally, to undermine the war in Iraq. He is a master manipulator, more than he is “smart”, and has always and only been interested, not in traditional American values and institutions, but in far left-wing ideology and muslim radical agendas. This focus is well exemplified in his political activism and orientation, academic acquaintances, and intimate personal friends for at least three decades; From his college years (visiting Pakistan when it was illegal for American citizens), until he quit Wright’s church to placate the mainstream media and their shallow majority audience; From unprecedented voter registration and campaign finance fraud, to his foundation in the notoriously corrupt Chicago Democratic Party political culture; To his obfuscation of his personal history, an almost total lack of transparency exemplified by his failure to open the most mundane of records, including an authentic birth certificate, selective service registration, college records and papers. Starting January 20, America, and especially Israel, may be in more serious long-term jeapardy than anyone is possibly imagining.

  28. Perfected democrat Says:

    “Obama is going to rely on Gates and Petreaus for his intelligence.”

    More likely, he is going to rely on General Jones to tell him what he wants to hear. Obama has never been known for his loyalty…

  29. hrrmmm Says:

    Here is Fred Kaplan in Slate:


    and and intresting post at NRO:


    Both are in favor of the Panetta pick. I don’t know how things will work out, but I woudn’t be so quick to jump to conclusions.

  30. huxley Says:

    Good links, hmmmm!

    I don’t know enough about these waters to assess. Perhaps Panetta’s tenures as budget director and chief of staff under Clinton does make Panetta more knowledgeable about intelligence than he appears.

    Nonetheless, I am struck this past year by the Democrats’ and Democrat voters’ repudiation of experience as a major qualification for running the highest levels of US government.

    Starting with Obama himself, an undistinguished junior senator, to Al Franken, a comedian and satirist, and now Caroline Kennedy, a socialite with a very special last name, there seems to be no bottom to who the Democrats will pick for running things.

  31. huxley Says:

    People remember JFK as a handsome, wealthy, charismatic young man from a well-connected family, who seemed to ascend to the presidency by divine right, but they forget that he was also a congressman for six years and senator for eight years, as well as a decorated hero in WWII.

    And JFK, for all his money and movie star appeal, lost his first bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

    Are we seeing a progressive scaling back in our expectations for our national leaders?

  32. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Occam’s Beard, thanks for the Corner link (I follow the Insty links, my son The Corner and we exchange, but he’s been falling down on the job lately. Something to do with being a dad, now, he says). If Obama has made a selection who won’t make things worse and might bring needed reforms, that’s as good as we could have hoped for.

  33. Bugs Says:

    I worry about Obama’s lack of experience, and some of his appointments are truly odd. I’m torn, however, between a desire for experienced people at the helm and a dislike for the ossified Washington culture that those people live in. Are there really any experienced spooks who aren’t somehow implicated in the laming of our intelligence services? And is there anyone else who is really capable of jumping in and changing the culture in those services? I would say both are unlikely.

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