Obama chooses ex-chief of staff to head CIA
Published 06/01/2009 | 02:30
President-elect Barack Obama has chosen former congressman and White House chief of staff Leon Panetta to take the reins of the Central Intelligence Agency, where many Democrats hope he will purge agents and senior officials who engaged in the torture of suspects.
Mr Obama was sharply critical of the CIA during the election and routinely denounced its interrogation techniques as illegal and shameful.
With little intelligence experience and a habit of showboating, Mr Panetta is an unusual choice for the shadowy world of intelligence. If confirmed in his post by the Senate, he will be running the agency with responsibility for tracking down Osama bin Laden.
The CIA dislikes having directors imposed from outside and has a time-honoured tradition of giving them a tough time. Mr Panetta is currently institute director of the Leon & Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy at a California university, which hosts the Leon Panetta Lecture Series and is home to the Leon E Panetta Archive.
Such self-promotion is unlikely to endear him to the CIA's Langley HQ. He may find agents who conducted water-boarding among his least co-operative staff. Mr Panetta's selection points to the difficulties Mr Obama's search committee had in finding an untainted candidate in the agency. His first pick, John Brennan, was dumped when his deep involvement in the CIA's rendition and interrogation programmes became public knowledge.
Mr Obama's aides stressed that Mr Panetta has foreign policy experience from his White House days and his role on the Iraq Study Group, which explored the CIA's failures – its recommendations were ignored by President Bush. Mr Panetta, from Monterey, California, was an eight-term congressman before becoming President Clinton's budget adviser. He was chief of staff from July 1994 to January 1997.