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. …
Several of Panetta’s former White House colleagues also said yesterday that he was appreciative of and engaged in national security issues during the Clinton years.
In a clear reference to harsh interrogation policies, including waterboarding, that were used against CIA terrorism detainees, Obama said his team would be “committed to breaking with some of the past practices and concerns that have, I think, tarnished the image of . . . the intelligence agencies as well as U.S. foreign policy.”
Almost as an afterthought at the end of his remarks, Obama noted that “there are outstanding intelligence professionals in the CIA” and other intelligence agencies, “and I have the utmost regard for the work that they’ve done.”
A widely held view among intelligence officials was that Obama’s team had decided to automatically disqualify any candidate who might have been seen as tainted by association with the controversial interrogation and detention policies of the Bush presidency — essentially anyone who held a management job in the past eight years. Former senior CIA official John O. Brennan, who headed the transition intelligence team, withdrew his name from consideration over concerns that his association with interrogation and rendition policies under President Bush and then-CIA director George J. Tenet would taint Obama.
A number of Tenet-era officials have argued that they were simply carrying out orders that the president and the attorney general, as well as Congress, had approved. Hayden, the outgoing director, defended interrogation policies, including waterboarding, that many have labeled torture, saying they were necessary to break some terrorism suspects. Although he has told Congress that waterboarding has not been used recently, Hayden publicly supported Bush’s decision to retain the option to use “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
But one former senior intelligence official noted that many of the people Panetta will be expected to lead will have participated in the interrogation policy’s enforcement. Obama and Panetta “should think twice about pledges they make now” about the handling of terrorism detainees, another former senior official said, “because they may come back to haunt them in the future if some dire circumstances occur.”
The desire to retain Kappes and Morrell, both of whom held senior positions under Tenet as well as with Hayden, however, indicated that Obama does not intend to clean house beyond the top leadership level.
Obama has said he plans to close the detention facility at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and that he would “make sure we do not torture.” Feinstein introduced legislation yesterday to do both.
The bill provides for “a legal, effective, and humane system of gathering intelligence and holding suspected terrorists.” It would close Guantanamo and require detainees either to be charged and tried in this country, transferred to an international tribunal or another country or held “in accordance with the law of armed conflict.”
It would also restrict the CIA and other intelligence agencies to 19 interrogation techniques authorized by the Army Field Manual, “creating a clear, single standard across the U.S. government.”
Picking the CIA’s leadership is one of the most difficult and risky things he will have to do as president if we wants to combat terrorism and lead us in a new direction. Lets hope this strategy of the keeping upper but not uppermost management works.
Co-Chair, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget
Mr. Panetta is a former U.S. representative from California and during his last two terms was chairman of the House Budget Committee. During the Clinton Administration he served as the director of the Office of Management and Budget in 1993 and White House Chief of Staff from 1994-1996. Currently, he is a professor of politics at Santa Clara University, Distinguished Professor for the California State University, and director of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy. He also co-directs the Leon & Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy and serves on many public policy and organizational boards. – usbudgetwatch
There is something about the nose that I trust. Like that nose would never pour water up another nose, you know? It’s a very sypmathetic nose, a fair nose. Let’s hope. Time will tell.