Monday, January 5, 2009

Leon Panetta is CIA Director

For a while now I have advocated Rand Beers, a Campaign to Ban Torture member, for the CIA Director position. Actual advocacy counts, in my book. And apparently, and happily, it counts in Obama's as well.

Panetta contributed an article to the Washington Monthly feature, "No Torture. No Exceptions" - the same series Beers contributed to. It is a good read and I suggest you check it out. It is a less gritty perspective than Beers', perhaps - but he makes the argument against torture eloquently.

Michael Goldfarb at The Weekly Standard makes a decent point though - if you can trace it. "Panetta's term as White House chief of staff coincided with the first serious use of extraordinary rendition by the Clinton administration." The Chief of Staff is not addressed in the rendition memo; might he have known? During the Clinton administration, is he in the circle intimately enough for it to matter?

I found the NYT's brief article on the rumored appointment interesting - particularly the end.

Mr. Hamilton said that if confirmed, Mr. Panetta will have the advantage of
moving to the agency headquarters in Langley, Va. with a strong relationship to
Mr. Obama, which can translate into influence within the broader intelligence
community. He said Mr. Panetta’s lack of hands-on intelligence experience can be
supplemented by others.

“You have to look at the team,” he said. “You clearly will want
intelligence professionals at the highest levels of the C.I.A.,” he said.

The estimable Lee Hamilton says look at the team. If that's one of the best quotes you can come up with for Panetta, you either feel he is icky (viable possibility) or you think the people below Panetta are going to have a lot of latitude.

More extensive quotes from Hamilton in this CQ article:

Hamilton said Panetta would I do need top deputies from the intelligence community. “It’s a complicated, arcane business,” he noted. But he added, “What his strength will be is he brings an outsider’s pespective to the intelligence community.”

Uh...figurehead anybody? Panetta will be in charge of picking his own Deputy Director. What will the top intelligence staff look like? Fairly decent people, like John Gannon? Or are people like Stephen Kappes going to be allowed to stay on by virtue of their experience - despite their crimes? If you put someone at the top who says torture is simply wrong...what consequences does that have for the officers below? If they kick the CIA leadership out on their butts, well, worse things have happened!

I would expect Jami Miscik to get a position under Panetta. Look again at Laura Rozen's article for Mother Jones - The Spies Who Love Obama. Rand Beers did coordinate the intelligence working group for the campaign. I think he'll get a little payback. Art Brown and Jack Devine are also advisors. A total overhaul is not going to happen - but again, does Obama want to go to the mat for a guy, Stephen Kappes, whose renditions have sullied his name?

Ambinder identifies 6 challenges for Panetta:

What confronts Panetta immediately:
(A) The building. Panetta is an outsider, like the dreaded John Deutch. Does he make an effort to learn the lore, the lingo and the culture? Does he remain aloof? Does Obama appoint a strong deputy with IC experience in order to bridge the perception gap?
(B) Upcoming legal battles over retroactive immunity for CIA officers involved in the Bush Administration's Bad Stuff. Will Panetta fight on their behalf? The CIA will argue, quite strenuously, that prosection of case officers would be disastrous for morale and would convince managers to err on the side of extreme caution, always.
(C) How to integrate CIA and DoD human intelligence collectors and their respective operations. The current regime -- CIA director Michael Hayden and SecDef Robert Gates -- have made progress here, but acute problems remain.
(D) Collection. Some elements of the special NSA collection program set up by, well, David Addington and Hayden remain in place. Are they dismantled? Legally modified?
(E) The bureaucracy. Why does the Director of National Intelligence have such a large staff? What do they do? How do they enhance or detract from the analytical project?
(F) Secrecy. Panetta's spoken out against excessive government classification and information restrictions. But momentum will be against him.

He also identifies a seventh, which will probably not amount to much, but:

It is common custom in Washington to notify committee chairs before the press.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein's prerogatives as incoming chair of the Senate Select
Committee on Intelligence aren't to be trifled with. The Obama folks know this.
The leak gives the impression that the Obama team wanted to do an end-run
around Feinstein. She never truly expected to be given a say in the
choice; she just wanted the courtesy of knowing about it.

Frank Naif writes on the challenges the IC faces as well. The contracting issues seem like a good fit for Panetta - contracting has never made a great deal of sense to me, long-term. And we are entering the long-term. But I think this is a good companion to Ambinder's noted concern for "case officers":

Throwing Spies Under the Bus: One chronic problem is senior intelligence leaders who can't or won't stand behind their troops. For example, CIA has all but turned its back on Bob Lady, formerly their man in Milan, who is on trial Italy (in absentia) for kidnapping of an Islamic cleric that was almost certainly ordered by the White House and blessed by intelligence chiefs up and down the chain of command. Intelligence officers now routinely purchase special professional liability insurance to cover potential legal costs, because they cannot count on their uncourageous leaders to stand up and take responsibility when intelligence operations go wrong. Why can't Lady get his bosses to lend him a hand? Why do intelligence officers need to buy insurance to protect themselves from their own cowardly managers?

Bob Lady doesn't even have help from the CIA when it comes to his legal bills. The problem is not the case officers; the problem is with the higher-ups who authorized, sold, and got the very highest to sign off on, some really stupid and poorly planned renditions. If Bob Lady and the CIA officers purchasing insurance are people to go by, the case officers have been waiting to be screwed for a long time. I address this in an earlier post. Stephen Grey writes in Ghost Plane:

"The refusal to confirm the CIA's renditions helps protect those who gave the orders-but not the individual CIA officers and pilots who carried out the
renditions." [p.267]

Panetta's appointment is a good step in the direction of an overall investigation of the CIA - similar to the one Durbin recently spearheaded - and the possibility of prosecutions. I wonder what the current CIA staff thinks of the appointment of someone whose hands are almost 100% squeaky clean.

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