News outfits are reporting that Leon Panetta has been tapped by President-elect Barack Obama to take over the Central Intelligence Agency.
It’s an unusual choice, for Panetta, a former Democratic congressman who became President Bill Clinton’s budget chief and then his White House chief of staff, has no direct intelligence experience, and the CIA in previous decades has been rather unwelcoming to outsiders. (Obama’s first pick for the spy chief slot, John Brennan, a career CIA officer, withdrew his name, after bloggers and others raised questions about his involvement in the agency’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation programs.) Panetta, if confirmed, will work closely with retired Admiral Dennis Blair, Obama’s choice to be director of national intelligence.
Panetta is an even-tempered and highly regarded Washington player–kind of a Mr. Fixit in a nice suit. He is also a zero-tolerance critic of the use of torture, and he considers waterboarding–a tactic used by the CIA–to be torture. A year ago, he wrote in The Washington Monthly: