What do people think of Obama's picks for intel chiefs?

Obama’s picks for the Director of National Intelligence and the Director of the CIA (is that still called the DCI?) are being questioned as neither has much intelligence experience. My worry is that these picks will be an overreaction to Bush policies which will hamstring our HUMINT capabilities. Is this unfounded? Are we getting another Stansfield Turner?


Is this a stupid question or does no one have an opinion on this (which I find hard to believe)?


Personally I think some people are overreacting to the Panetta pick. He was chief of staff to Clinton for enough time to have sufficient background in intel, in addition to his other work.

I think they are perfect picks. Obama is hardly the first president to bring in an outsider to clean up the CIA. Kennedy did it, and so did Reagan.

My first thought was that picking a non-Intelligence person to run the CIA was an awful idea. Then I realized how much that agency has fucked up in recent years, and it occurred to me that promoting someone from within the wasn’t necessarily a good idea. So I’m neutral on this, and maybe even mildly positive when I think about words like “WMD,” “slam dunk” and “Al Qaeda.”

And “torture”, which Panetta has publicly condemned.


Also, as Obama himself put it yesterday, he wants a CIA that will tell him what he needs to know, not what it thinks he wants to hear.

It depends on how the CIA is used. Clinton was worried about legal issues when OBL was handed to him on a silver platter. Somewhere along the line the reality of the situation became apparent because when he left office he made a speech in which he said terrorism was the number one threat to the United States. I don’t think he would have turned down the gift of OBL at the end of his term.

This is not a good time for political correctness.

Err, you meant this in an ironic context, right?

The problem with the CIA, as with many large and long-standing government agencies, is that it has lived long past its original overall mission, and has an entrenched bureaucracy that is dedicated first and foremost to self-survival. The CIA’s originally and singular purpose was not to act as intelligence collecting and disseminating agency per se, but rather to be America’s covert service to fight the worldwide spread of Communism; a mission, as it happens, that it failed at miserably and repeatedly. Not only was it ineffectual at stopping the rise of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, but it also saw Reds under beds everywhere there wasn’t, and often ended up being more a tool of business and foreign interests than of the United States. It’s contentious relationship with the State Department, disregard of and by the Armed Services, and nearly unbounded authority and lack of oversight, not to mention early executives who were stunning in their utter incompetence led to an agency that couldn’t manage to run a simple ratline into Czechoslovakia without turning it into a giant leaking counterespionage coup for the Other Side, and very nearly never provided good strategic information and analysis when most needed. Both the Kennedys and Reagan attempted to turn the CIA into a covert paramilitary and insurgency support arm with the same predictably bad results any historian could have predicted from a comparison to the Great Game of the 19th century.

The best thing that could be done with the CIA is to separate its functions–active espionage and information gathering, signals intelligence, strategic and tactical analysis, science and technology research, secure communications–and turn them over to the Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Energy, Department of Justice, Department of the Treasury, et cetera as appropriate, leaving a skeleton organization to act as a clearinghouse and coordination for intelligence interchange between professional military and civilian agencies. This, of course, is impossible as it would lead to the same stonewalling and alienation that make Stansfield Turner more ineffectual than a butter knife against a Sizzler steak.

The CIA is and has long been a bureaucracy looking for a mission, not an effective intelligence gathering agency, and its infighting with other agencies and attempts to provide the answer desired rather than the answer of fact. So, I guess I can’t really care much about who Obama picks for those roles, provided that he seeks to obtain independent counsel on intelligence matters from the Pentagon, DoJ, and other sources that at least have separate if not objective points of view. I’m more interested in who he picks to run the Department of Energy or Department of Education than the DNI.


If a steak is cooked right, a butter knife will do. I don’t expect Obama to run things the way other presidents have.

But those aren’t the only two choices. There must be some folks out there with Intel experience (not at the CIA) who share Obama’s vision of what the CIA should be doing. After all, Obama isn’t going to be giving Paneta any tips on how the CIA runs.

But Paneta seems competent enough. I don’t think it’s a bad pick-- I just don’t know who the other choices were, and it seems like there should’ve been lots more and lots better.

Yes, I don’t think Panetta is a terrible pick but I find it hard to believe he was the best available. There has been talk about how he received intelligence briefings when he was COS but that was incidental to his main job. Similarly he would have learnt about intelligence operations during his stint at OMB but that was a small part of his job. Obama should have picked someone who has worked full-time on intelligence or at least national security who also shares his general views on the relevant issues.

Panetta is familiar with intelligence as a consumer of it. That is a point of view that is important to Obama. I think it’s silly to say that there might be some better choice than Obama’s when he has freely chosen for himself the person he wants serving him. Obviously, it is the best choice for what he has in mind; otherwise, he would have chosen someone else.

It reminds me of a time in my younger days when my boss wanted to produce some payroll software. He asked me whether I had any experience writing payroll software. I told him no, that my only experience was in using it rather extensively. His eyes lit up, and he immediately assigned me to write it. Our customers loved it.

I think when people say so-and-so is not the best choice, they are thinking in terms of who would be the best choice for them, or for posterity, or something. But clearly, the best choice for Obama is whatever choice Obama has made.

I wish you and your ilk will stop repeating this canard, which you know full well having had it debunked here numerous times, is not true. :rolleyes:

I have worked with Panetta in the past. He’s an asshole. IMHO.

How, specifically, was he a consumer of it?

By that logic, all of Bush’s appointees were the best choice for what he had in mind.

That comes from an interview of Sudan’s minister of state for defense, Maj. Gen. Elfatih Erwa by Lawrence Wright. It’s backed up by a statement President Clinton made in a 2002 speech where he said: ** At the time, 1996, he had committed no crime against America, so I did not bring him here because we had no basis on which to hold him, though we knew he wanted to commit crimes against America.
** (from factcheck.org)

Maybe Sudan met with the CIA in Virginia to swap recipes, Wright is lying and Clinton mis-remembered. I don’t know.

My point stands. Obama can’t afford to ignore players like OBL.

You’re joking, right? He was the White House Chief of Staff.

Nonsense. For the logic to hold, we would have to accept the premise that Bush has the same level of intelligence and foresight that Obama has. No one would accept such a premise as true.

No, I’m not joking. Chiefs of Staff can be quite powerful for Presidents who like to delegate. Clinton was famous for not being such a President. It is not at all clear how much hands-on Intel experience Panetta had as CoS under Clinton. A CoS can be much more like a traffic cop than a detective. I’m not saying I know that your statement is untrue-- only that you have not offered enough evidence that it is true.

No. Neither your statement nor mine said anything about the relative intelligence level of either man. Besides, even if you want to know make that assertion, you are simply making a circular argument.

So… Obama is infallible, and therefore any choice he makes is, by definition, perfect?