Tag Archives: Panetta

Panetta promotes precision

Seal of the Central Intelligence Agency of the...

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One of the few things I have agreed with Dick Cheney about is the wisdom of using a scalpel rather than a truncheon:

The stepped-up drone strikes, Panetta’s opposition to the release of information about CIA interrogation practices, and his resistance to greater oversight of the agency by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) have prompted criticism that he is a thrall of the agency’s old guard. In the meantime, the strikes have begun to draw greater scrutiny, with watchdog groups demanding to know more about how they are carried out and the legal reasoning behind the killings.

In an interview Wednesday at CIA headquarters, Panetta refused to directly address the matter of Predator strikes, in keeping with the agency’s long-standing practice of shielding its actions in Pakistan from public view. But he said that U.S. counterterrorism policies in the country are legal and highly effective, and that he is acutely aware of the gravity of some of the decisions thrust upon him.

Panetta may resemble the Company’s old guard, but it’s hard to argue that the organization isn’t stronger under his leadership.  Were I to have one wish, it would be that the tension between the DCI and the DNI come to a head and be resolved once and for all.

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FP Shadow Blog: Panetta faces tough org change hurdles


Leon Panetta may know very little about intelligence, but he knows a lot about managing difficult organizations. After all, he was Chief of Staff in a White House that was not noted for its organizational rigor. As Director of the Office of Management and Budget, he had to say “no” more often than he said “yes.” He will have to do more of the same in a CIA that is one and the same [sic?] time demoralized, yet the subject of bitter criticism for behaviors than [sic] seem to stretch the boundaries of legality.

The CIA is a tough organization. It has done in many would-be reformers, both on the Right and the Left. No doubt there will be some among the Agency’s veterans who will view Panetta as another outsider around whom they can run circles, while newer, younger Agency types, with only the past few years as their guide, may resent what they might see as “do-gooder” meddling with their organization.

That’s half of the blog post, alas.  The rest describes the new reporting structure, the change in political landscape, and the likely outcomes.  The verdict: resistance is futile.

Brennan named top adviser on counterterrorism

More evidence that the CIA is in for a great deal of change:

Barack Obama has picked John O. Brennan as his top adviser on counterterrorism, a role that will give the CIA veteran a powerful voice on the government’s use of security contractors and on other sensitive issues in which he recently has played a private-sector role.

By appointing Brennan to a senior White House position not subject to Senate approval, Obama is also making him an influential adviser on the Middle East and on Iran, a topic on which Brennan has called for a sharp break with past U.S. policy.

Obama has been critical of private security firms; Brennan has run one.  That should mitigate for something resembling middle ground.  Contractors are a reality of modern warfare and intelligence, one that calls out for a coherent set of principles.  Between Panetta’s expected streamlining and Brennan’s knowledge of the contracting business, what changes the public is permitted to see should be interesting.

One wonders what veterans at Langley are anticipating.  Resistance to change is often born before the change even begins, especially when opportunities are missed to involve those affected by the change in creating it.  Panetta probably understands this very well.  It’s not unreasonable to expect that many of the old guard will feel disenfranchised, but that view doesn’t have to be the norm.

Panetta expected to clean up covert mess, shift power to DNI

Slate’s Fred Kaplan explains why Leon Panetta, an intel outsider, could be a wise choice for CIA director:

These “special-access programs”—satellites, sensors, and other intelligence-gathering devices whose very existence is known only to those with compartmentalized security clearances—form a welter of costly, overlapping, ill-coordinated, and largely unsupervised projects that are run by private contractors to a greater extent than most people might imagine.

One former CIA official who is familiar with these programs (and who asked not to be identified) speculates that Panetta’s main task might be to clean up not only the agency’s high-profile mess—the “black ops” that have tarnished America’s reputation around the world—but this budgetary-bureaucratic mess as well. Certainly, he knows where the line items are buried to a degree that few insiders can match.

That kind of streamlining could be a highly desirable outcome yielding (one hopes) a clearer, more coherent view of what comprises the broader view of various intel sources.  Aside from housecleaning, Kaplan also speculates on the likelihood of a shift in power toward what the director of national intelligence was intended to be:

At the same time, it’s a fair guess that the CIA’s collective happiness doesn’t rank too high on Obama’s list of priorities. In this regard, Panetta’s appointment may—and, again, I stress may—be a sign that the incoming president plans to elevate the role of the national director of intelligence, which will reportedly be filled by retired Adm. Dennis Blair.

The NDI is a post that Bush created reluctantly, at the urging of the 9/11 commission, which envisioned a supra-entity that would coordinate the hodgepodge of 16 agencies that make up the U.S. “intelligence community.” Its directors—first John Negroponte, then Mike McConnell—have done much to expand the office, but it remains more an extra bureaucratic layer than a centralizing force.

Though a seasoned pol and former White House chief like Panetta probably insisted on presidential access as a condition of taking the job (his early endorsement of Obama wouldn’t have hurt here), he may well accede to Adm. Blair’s higher authority—without the rancor or bitterness that might afflict an insider.

This would mitigate the long-standing problem of a profusion of intel agencies having no mechanism for coordination.  While the DNI post was supposed to address that problem, reporting lines and budgets have led elsewhere, ensuring that the post lacks final say or oversight.  An insider could be expected to fight for turf, whereas Panetta is someone with more interest in the needs of the president, not to mention a grasp of organizational reform and how to enact it.  Panetta also has a successful life to return to at any time; neither his future nor his legacy are entirely dependent upon what people at CIA think.

The leak that exposed the choice of Panetta was an unfortunate one, but it need not define his confirmation and the important work he is facing.  The electorate voted for change, and they are getting it.

Note:  Leave it to the Washington Post to dig up the above picture of Panetta in a trench coat.

Panetta to helm CIA

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.

…and conversely…

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.