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Panetta’s commission report on Khost seems to have stated it was a disaster, but no one was at fault,” said a longtime CIA employee who requested anonymity. “I think that’s wrong and hurts morale. Panetta would say he did so in order to keep morale up.”

George Little, Mr. Panetta’s chief spokesman, told The Washington Times: “The agency conducted an exhaustive review of the Khost attack and found that responsibility could not be assigned to any one group or individual. This was a case of shortcomings across multiple CIA components. There seems to be a natural tendency in Washington to look for ways to place blame, but thats not always the right thing to do.”

Amid travels here and abroad, Mr. Panetta took time last spring to host a cook-off at Langley for contestants in the Bravo cable-TV network’s “Top Chef” show. Mr. Panetta and selected staff were tasting and commenting on dishes in the executive dining room, when an aide handed him a slip of paper. The director read it, then abruptly excused himself and left, never to return.

Why Mr. Panetta was called away remains a top secret.