Thursday, January 8, 2009

Leon Panetta and the CIA

Leon Panetta and the CIA

By Jerome Grossman

President-elect Obama stunned the national intelligence community by selecting Leon Panetta to serve as the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Panetta has been a US Representative, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Chief of Staff in the Clinton administration.

While Panetta is a longtime Washington insider with serious management experience, he is not an expert on intelligence or on past operations of the CIA. Obama has been criticized by CIA specialists and high ranking senators for appointing a director without direct experience in the field.

But that is exactly why Panetta was appointed. Obama has criticized the agency for using harsh interrogation methods and has openly objected to the use of such methods, some of which have been used for generations under Democratic as well as Republican administrations. Obama had to find a director who was absolutely clean on waterboarding, other tortures, secret renditions of prisoners to other countries for torture, kidnappings, assassinations, etc.. The only safe appointment was a manager who had never been in the CIA, who did not have the experience of breaking US law and violating the Geneva Conventions on Treatment of Prisoners of War. The Clinton administration made extensive use of rendering suspects to Egypt without formal charges to be tortured. Was Panetta involved? Will the question be asked at his confirmation hearing?

Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein of California and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia immediately complained about the appointment citing lack of experience and Obama's failure to notify them in advance. However, their position is weakened by their failure to use their influence as powerful members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to expose the hideous practices and to arouse the nation of the crimes committed in the name of the United States.

It will not be easy for Panetta to reform the CIA and to change established patterns of conduct. Who becomes second in command of operations will supply a clue about the chance of success in changing the culture of the agency. The action levels are often hidden from the view of the Director at the helm. Obama is trying, and so will Panetta. The illegal procedures must be eliminated. They offend other nations, tarnish US reputation, and produce incorrect information. Modern intelligence techniques avoid torture and violence, rely on psychological approaches and obtain more accurate information faster without alienating the rest of humanity.


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