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Michael Scheuer, the CIA’s former chief of the unit tracking al Qaeda, testified in 2007 to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs that in 1995 he launched a program to send al Qaeda operatives to third countries known to be human rights abusers.

Reaction from Republican lawmakers to the choice of Mr. Panetta was muted. A senior aide to the ranking Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Jamal Ware, said his boss, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, welcomed change at the CIA.

“Mr. Hoekstra has called for a new direction and change in the culture at CIA for some time. Whether it’s Mr. Panetta or someone else, it is important that the agency move in a new direction,” Mr. Ware said.

Mr. Panetta would join a centrist national security team dominated by people associated with the Clinton administration. The expected nominee for national director of intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, served under President Clinton as the head of Pacific Command.

A former officer in the CIA’s clandestine service, Reuel Marc Gerecht, said it does not matter much whether the director is a political choice or is culled from the agency’s own career ranks.

“First and foremost, people tend to overestimate what any director of the Central Intelligence Agency can do concerning reform and restructuring the institution,” he said. “The institution more or less runs itself. This notion that leadership will somehow change the agency and particularly the clandestine service is a bit much.”