Leon Panetta For DCI?

That’s the story. There are, however, some problems to consider:

President-elect Barack Obama is naming Leon Panetta, a former congressman from California and chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, to be CIA director. Obama also has picked retired Navy Admiral Dennis Blair to be director of national intelligence, overseeing all the nation’s spy agencies, a Democratic official said.

The selection pairs a top military man with a quintessential Washington insider – but that combination appeared to irk some key Senate Democrats, who expressed concern that Panetta does not have an intelligence background. “My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time,” said California Sen. Diane Feinstein, who will oversee Panetta’s confirmation as chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence.

Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), the vice chairman of the committee, also questioned the choice of Panetta. “Job number one at the CIA is to track down and stop terrorists. In a post-9-11 world, intelligence experience would seem to be a prerequisite for the job of CIA Director. While I will reserve final judgment on President-elect Obama’s nomination for the leader of our terror-fighting agency, I will be looking hard at Panetta’s intelligence expertise and qualifications.”

Panetta’s “intelligence expertise and qualifications” are nearly nonexistent. To be sure, he was Chief of Staff to President Clinton and dealt with intelligence matters but it’s one thing to serve as a consumer of intelligence and quite another to serve as a producer. Panetta has no experience whatsoever being a producer of intelligence and does not know how to be the head of an organization responsible for producing intelligence.

This does not faze some of Panetta’s defenders, who assure us that all of the sudden, intelligence experienceis not all that important. What matters, we are assured, is judgment. That’s nice; of course, given the background of the incoming President of the United States, one might expect that experience would be downgraded. But after a while, these snide dismissals of experience grow lame, do they not? We have a major task ahead of us to augment our intelligence gathering and analysis capabilities and we are picking someone to serve as DCI who has no background whatsoever in these matters. Am I to believe that we shouldn’t be nervous over that?

I am certainly nervous over this:

A former senior CIA manager said the message of the Panetta appointment was clear: “The message is, ‘I don’t want to hear anything out of the CIA. Make it go away. No scandals. Keep it quiet,'” the former officer told me. “They put over there a guy who is a political loyalist, who will keep everything nice and quiet, but who won’t know a good piece of intelligence from a [fertilizer laden] piece of intelligence, and wouldn’t know a good intelligence officer” from a bad one.

Yeah, sleeping at night after reading that quote ought to be challenging. Fortunately, it would seem that there are some Democrats who are just as concerned as I am.

I wouldn’t have had much of a problem if Leon Panetta was the President-elect’s choice for Budget Director or Secretary of the Treasury or Chief of Staff. But DCI? Justifying this appointment is a tall order. And if it cannot be justified, then whatever the deference one might owe to a new President in his/her personnel selections–and I believe the deference owed is presumptively considerable in nature–Leon Panetta should not be confirmed as Director of Central Intelligence.