My initial head-scratching gave way to admiration for the transition team’s thoughtfulness:
Panetta has a strong background in economics but little hands-on experience in intelligence. However, he is known as a strong manager with solid organizational skills. [emphasis added]
That may very well be the order of the day.
MORE: From the New York Times:
Mr. Panetta has a reputation in Washington as a competent manager with strong background in budget issues, but has little hands-on intelligence experience. If confirmed by the Senate, he will take control of the agency most directly responsible for hunting senior Al Qaeda leaders around the globe, but one that has been buffeted since the Sept. 11 attacks by leadership changes and morale problems.
Given his background, Mr. Panetta is a somewhat unusual choice to lead the C.I.A., an agency that has been unwelcoming to previous directors perceived as outsiders, such as Stansfield M. Turner and John M. Deutch. But his selection 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.
FURTHERMORE: Two views from a good round-up on Foreign Policy’s new site:
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 shitty piece of intelligence, and wouldn’t know a good intelligence officer” from a bad one.
But former intelligence analyst Greg Treverton, now with the Rand Corporation, said Panetta’s experience as a former White House chief of staff might give him a unique understanding of the presidency and its needs for intelligence. “One of my experiences with people like Panetta who have been chief of staff is that they have a clear sense of what is helpful to the president that most senior officials don’t,” Treverton told me. “They get it. What he could do and couldn’t do. And that’s an interesting advantage Panetta brings. Knowledge of what the presidential stakes are like, how issues arise, and what they need to be protected from, for better or worse.”
I have to confess to knowing little about Panetta, but the dysfunctions of the IC in general and CIA in particular are the subject of some weighty books and damning committee reports. I’d be less comfortable with a career spy who knew little about organizational reform than with someone who is less versed in the covert arts but practiced at changing and managing organizations near the presidency, at least at this moment in time. I suspect from what little I know about Panetta that he will work like hell to learn what he needs to know and question anything that seems not to make sense in “the way things have always been done”. That will be useful.
Another point getting lost from Capitol Hill to Langley: unlike the original organizational construct in which the CIA was to be the only or main intel agency, the new order is for the Director of Central Intelligence to report to the Director of National Intelligence. Bluntly, the DCI is no longer the top spy. Those with a dog in the race have generally been enthusiastic about the DNI nominee, Dennis Blair. Panetta will not be working in a vacuum nor toward his own intel strategy. I’m cautiously optimistic.