Wednesday, January 7, 2009

More on Panetta

The more I read about the people who are upset about Panetta being the pick for DCI, the more savvy of a choice it seems. First, let's get this "not enough experience" meme taken care of. Fred Kaplan gets Richard Clarke on record about Panetta in Bill Clinton's White House:

Richard Clarke, who was the White House counterterrorism director under Clinton (and, briefly, under Bush before resigning and then emerging as a celebrated critic), wrote in an e-mail today:

Leon was in all of the important national security meetings for years, both as [Office of Management and Budget] director and as chief of staff. He made substantive contributions well outside of his job description. And as OMB director, he was one of a very few people who knew about all of the covert and special-access programs.

Clarke's first point is crucial—Panetta knows, from experience, what a president wants and needs from intelligence reports, so he could represent the agency's views more cogently than many insiders might.

But the final point is important, too. 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.

It seems hard to argue that this kind of experience didn't prepare him sufficiently when you pair it with his work on the Iraqi Study Group, in Congress, etc... especially if Steven Kappes, your intelligence professional, is kept in the deputy director spot.

That out of the way, back to why Feinstein and Rockefeller's dismay at the pick makes me more confident about the choice... Scott Horton nails it:
The bottom line is that Jay Rockefeller was an abject failure when it came to intelligence oversight. His term as ranking member and then chair of the Senate intelligence committee was one in which Congress generally, and the Senate in particular, failed to live up to their Constitutional mandate. The intelligence community was steered by the Bush Administration into a series of criminal escapades. Effective congressional oversight would have exposed these failings and brought them to heel. But the Rockefeller-Feinstein record was little short of disastrous. I’m delighted that the Obama team didn’t consult them.

And I suspect that Panetta was chosen principally for his managerial skills, but secondarily because Obama wanted someone who would have a more powerful voice in Washington generally, and in Congressional circles in particular, than either Rockefeller or Feinstein.
I'm sorry if it hurts their feelings, but Bush's Democrat enablers are not who I want picking who goes in to reform a failed and disgraced agency. As I mentioned yesterday, it seems to me that they're more interested in letting "bygones be bygones" than really getting to the bottom about how things went so terribly wrong... and that's simply not in the American people's best interest.