Obama taps Leon Panetta to head CIA

The former White House chief of staff doesn't have intelligence experience, but after the Bush administration, the president-elect couldn't really tap an Agency insider.

Published January 5, 2009 8:13PM (EST)

President-elect Barack Obama has reportedly settled on his choice to head the CIA: Former Rep. Leon Panetta, who served as White House chief of staff during Bill Clinton's administration.

Panetta will, if confirmed, come to the job without much in the way of intelligence experience. Obama is said to have wanted someone who's a veteran with this kind of work, but as the New York Times notes, that was all but impossible because of the Agency's history during the Bush administration. The choice, the paper's Carl Hulse and Mark Mazzetti write, "points up the difficulty Mr. Obama had in finding a C.I.A. director with no connection to controversial counterterrorism programs of the Bush era."

Democrats who've spoken to reporters about the choice are arguing that what Panetta lacks in insider knowledge of the CIA and intelligence gathering, he makes up for in other ways. "In disclosing the pick, officials pointed to Mr. Panetta’s sharp managerial skills, his strong bipartisan standing on Capitol Hill, his significant foreign policy experience in the White House and his service on the Iraq Study Group," Hulse and Mazzetti report. "The officials noted that he had a handle on intelligence spending from his days as director of the Office and Management and Budget."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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