Water Man Spouts

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Leon Panetta & the DCI

The report that Leon Panetta will serve as the Director of the CIA in the Obama administration is getting a lot of attention in Washington, DC, and in the national news media. It is interesting to view this within the larger context of the controversies involving who gets to take positions of power in our country, either by elections or appointments. Considering that the current White House occupant was appointed in the face of having lost the 2000 presidential election, current events should come as little surprise. Will the Senate seat Roland Burris? Who will NY Governor Patterson appoint? And how far will the machine go to deny Al Franken the victory that he has won?

In Panetta’s case, I am reminded of when newly elected President Jimmy Carter attempted to appoint Ted Sorensen to serve as the CIA’s director in 1977. A full story of those events can be found in Sorensen’s 2008 book, "Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History." (See chapter 33, "My 1977 Nomination for Director of Central Intelligence") This came at a time shortly after the disgraced Nixon administration had been removed from power, and Gerald Ford had become VP then President without having been elected to either office.

At the time, there were divisions within the democratic party. Those divisions led to Soresen’s not being able to serve as DCI. Looking back, it is disappointing to see those democrats who undercut Sorensen.

Like Sorensen, Leon Panetta has a long history of service in Washington. Also, he is being selected to serve as a manager of an agency that has experienced a troubling role in the scandals associated with a corrupt republican administration. And like Sorensen, Panetta may face some serious opposition from the democrats in Washington who should be supporting the newly elected President’s choice.

While the media focuses on Panetta’s reported lack of experience in intelligence matters (a claim that does not hold up under close examination), and the talking heads discuss their thoughts on if President Obama should have kept on the current Bush appointee, the truth lies elsewhere. There has been an effort by a faction of Washington democrats to get Obama to appoint Jane Harmen as DCI.

Harmen does have experience with intelligence matters, relating to her service in the House of Representatives. For example, she serves on the Committee on Homeland Security. In that position, she offered to do the legal research she believed would support VP Cheney’s most questionable, secret activities ( see pages 301-302 of Barton Gellman’s 2008 book "Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency"). In 2007, she submitted a resolution that proposed to set restrictions on free speech and beliefs within the United States.

Panetta has spoken out strongly against the types of practices, such as torture, that Harmen and Cheney embrace. I believe that he is a good choice for DCI at this time. It should be interesting to see if his appointment is confirmed.


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