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Who is Panetta really defending?

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Central Intelligence Agency director Leon Panetta lashed out at former vice president Dick Cheney over Mr. Cheney’s recent defense of the Bush administration’s national security policy.  Mr. Panetta told the New Yorker,:

“I think he smells some blood in the water on the national-security issue,” he told me. “It’s almost, a little bit, gallows politics. When you read behind it, it’s almost as if he’s wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point. I think that’s dangerous politics.”

It seems Mr. Panetta is more comfortable with participating in mudslinging for the current Democratic administration than he is about being CIA director.  When Mr. Panetta was first announced as President Obama’s pick to head up the CIA, there was a concern about his lack of experience in areas of intelligence and his past position as Chief of Staff for the Clinton White House.  Unfortunately, Mr. Panetta was more than likely chosen to further politicize the CIA.

As I discussed in a January Newsbusters post (for which I was gratuitously attacked for by certain left wing groups…but oh never mind) Panetta’s involvement with fending for the Clinton Administration during the file-gate investigations(Where is Craig Livingstone today, anyway?) made him better qualified to remain in partisan political hackery rather than become the top man at the CIA .  However, Obama administration advisors and media supporters’ thoughts of the Panetta appointment only foreshadowed Mr. Panetta’s attack on Mr. Cheney.  Not surprisingly, David Ignatius of the Washington Post praised the Panetta pick in January of this year and reported,:

“Here’s the message, according to Obama’s advisers: Panetta is a Washington heavyweight with the political clout to protect the agency and help it rebuild after a traumatic eight years under George Bush, when it became a kind of national pincushion.

“Leon is not going to preside over the demise of the CIA,” explains one member of the Obama transition team. “The CIA needs to have someone who can represent them well.”

Mr.Ignatius liked this argument for Panetta and said,:

This argument for Panetta makes sense. Ideally, the next CIA director would have been an experienced professional — someone like Steve Kappes, the veteran case officer who now serves as deputy director. But the reality is that the professionals now lack the political muscle to fend off the agency’s critics and second-guessers. That’s the heart of the problem: The agency needs to rebuild political support before it can be depoliticized.

According to its website, the CIA’s director’s responsibilities include

  • Collecting intelligence through human sources and by other appropriate means, except that he shall have no police, subpoena, or law enforcement powers or internal security functions;
  • Correlating and evaluating intelligence related to the national security and providing appropriate dissemination of such intelligence;
  • Providing overall direction for and coordination of the collection of national intelligence outside the United States through human sources by elements of the Intelligence Community authorized to undertake such collection and, in coordination with other departments, agencies, or elements of the United States Government which are authorized to undertake such collection, ensuring that the most effective use is made of resources and that appropriate account is taken of the risks to the United States and those involved in such collection; and
  • Performing such other functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security as the President or the Director of National Intelligence may direct.

Apparently, “building up political clout to protect the agency” was not important enough to be included on the list above, but Mr. Panetta seems to be working hard to build that clout among Obama administration allies.  Unlike the unprecedented lashing Mr. Cheney received from the CIA chief, Mr. Panetta’s gentle response to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Ca, after she charged that the CIA” was misleading” Congress on CIA interrogation methods, shows who Mr. Panetta is really looking out for.  He responded to Ms. Pelosi,:

“Let me be clear: It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress. That is against our laws and our values. As the Agency indicated previously in response to Congressional inquiries, our contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing “the enhanced techniques that had been employed.” Ultimately, it is up to Congress to evaluate all the evidence and reach its own conclusions about what happened.”

  Mr. Cheney has already responded to Mr. Panetta’s attack on him by saying,:  

“I hope my old friend Leon was misquoted.  The important thing is whether the Obama administration will continue the policies that have kept us safe for the past eight years.”

Mr. Cheney’s reaction to Mr. Panetta’s  outrageous attack goes to show the former vice president is more concerned with keeping the United States safe rather than taking cheap political shots.  Coming from a politician, the former vice president reacted the way Mr. Panetta should have toward Mr. Cheney, but the CIA chief is too busy building his “political clout.”

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About the Author
Kerry Picket

Kerry Picket

Kerry Picket, a former Opinion Blogger/Editor of The Watercooler, was associate producer for the Media Research Center, a content producer for Robin Quivers of "The Howard Stern Show" on Sirius satellite radio and a production assistant and copy writer at MTV.

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