David Rothkopf

The new CIA director: Just the latest in a long line of missed calls for the intelligence community

Talk about intelligence failures. Naming Leon Panetta as the next Director of Central Intelligence, the Obama Administration achieved a number of things not the least of which may have been reminding knowledgeable intel community (IC) insiders just how wrong they can be about key issues. Not that they really needed to be reminded of that ...

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Talk about intelligence failures. Naming Leon Panetta as the next Director of Central Intelligence, the Obama Administration achieved a number of things not the least of which may have been reminding knowledgeable intel community (IC) insiders just how wrong they can be about key issues. Not that they really needed to be reminded of that following the Bush years. But still, Panetta’s name was seldom raised as a likely candidate for the job and judging from the calls I have been receiving this afternoon, people are scrambling around trying to figure out the whys and what it means.

Panetta of course, is hardly an unknown quantity in Washington. Known primarily as a master of the budget, as a deft manager and as a thoughtful guy, it is a safe bet that he will be able to handle the operational challenges at Langley. That said, it almost seems that more important than what he is known for is what he is not known for, more important than what is on his resume is what is not. He is not an old IC hand. He is not tainted by any links to Bush policies that were perceived as intelligence blunders or violations of human rights. He is the classic model of the wise man of great integrity who is called in to hit the restart button.

Panetta, as a member of the Iraq Study Group, was exposed to some of the consequences of Bush-era intel missteps. Further, during the Clinton Administration, as White House Chief of Staff, he saw that team’s bumptious management of the intelligence world and also saw up close, the value of good intelligence support for the president. As a former head of the Office of Management and Budget, he also is well familiar with the bottom line for community and as a former senior member of congress he has all the tools to be an excellent bridge to the hill.

It is also important to remember that the Director of Central Intelligence job is not what it once was. The DCI reports up to the Director of National Intelligence, the new top dog in the system. Thus, Panetta will not have the obligation of most of his predecessors of being the principle architect of the intelligence strategies of the United States. Rather, he will be a key player in a team. If, as expected, the DNI is Admiral Dennis Blair, the pair would represent a formidable combination. Blair is one of the military’s most thoughtful soldier-statesmen types, a former Rhodes scholar, former commander of the world’s largest military command (US Pacific Command) and a former Associate Director of Central Intelligence. Blair is exceptionally capable, has a well-developed world view which is constantly being refined by a curious and wide-ranging intellect, and of course, has the IC and military background that Panetta does not. He can be the strategist and the architect. Panetta can add much on political and management sides (which is not to underestimate his very considerable policy knowledge). Together they would represent the kind of leadership team that can help Obama move the IC forward out of an uncomfortable period in its history and yet ensure its vital resources remain strong and available to the President and the national security leadership as they must be given the threats we currently face.

 Twitter: @djrothkopf

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