Diary

Of Panetta And Conundrums

The nature of the selection process for the next Director of Central Intelligence has careened from the bizarre to the ridiculous:

President-elect Barack Obama said yesterday that he has selected a “top-notch intelligence team” that would provide the “unvarnished” information his administration needs, rather than “what they think the president wants to hear.”

But current and former intelligence officials expressed sharp resentment over Obama’s choice of Leon E. Panetta as CIA director and suggestions that the agency suffers from incompetent leadership and low morale. “People who suggest morale is low don’t have a clue about what’s going on now,” said CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield, citing recent personnel reforms under current Director Michael V. Hayden.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence were still stewing over Obama’s failure to consult them on the choice before it was leaked Monday and continued to question Panetta’s lack of intelligence experience. Vice President-elect  Joseph R. Biden Jr. acknowledged that the transition team had made a “mistake” in not consulting or even notifying congressional leaders, and Obama telephoned committee Chairman  Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and her predecessor,  Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), yesterday to apologize.

So, Team Obama has started out by insulting and patronizing the intelligence community and by offending members of Congress. Also, Joe Biden is mouthing off.

Okay. But how about this Panetta guy? I know that there are plenty of people who say that he has experience as a consumer of intelligence and to be sure, some of them are quoted in the story. But we also have this:

Although several top CIA officials who have interacted with Obama since the election expressed admiration for his grasp of the issues, the transition process has clearly left a bad taste. One senior official said that “the process was completely opaque” and that the agency was neither consulted nor informed. The official was among several who discussed the subject on the condition of anonymity.

A second official who had worked with President Bill Clinton’s national security team while Panetta was chief of staff said he had no recollection of Panetta taking an active role in intelligence briefings or discussions of CIA policy and practice.

“He just didn’t make an impression,” said the official, who also requested anonymity so he could speak freely.

Stephen Kappes is available. Why didn’t Team Obama just go ahead and select him?