Obama’s choice for CIA drawing criticism

January 8th, 2009 - 9:33 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Jan 8 (DPA) President-elect Barack Obama’s choice of former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta to head the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has drawn criticism from Democrats and Republicans worried he is too inexperienced to take on the job.Panetta, a former congressman from California who served as Bill Clinton’s top aide, has never worked in the intelligence or national security community, but if confirmed by the Senate would be in charge of tracking down Al Qaeda leaders and cooperating with key allies like Pakistan in the war on terrorism.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, expressed frustration over the failure of the Obama team to inform her of the choice before it leaked to the media.

“My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best served by having an intelligence professional at this time,” Feinstein said.

Obama’s official announcement of Panetta, 70, to serve as director of the CIA could come any time soon, but he is already facing questions about his top spy choice. Panetta’s candidacy could prove to be another headache for Obama during what had until recently been an otherwise smooth transition into office.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson Sunday withdrew his nomination to become commerce secretary because of a grand jury investigation into a company that contributed to his political causes and received millions of dollars in state contracts.

By choosing Panetta, Obama would bring in a CIA outsider who could bring a fresh perspective to the agency as it emerges from eight tumultuous years under the Bush administration.

The CIA has been faulted for failing to prevent the Sep 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, blamed for providing incorrect information on Saddam Hussein’s weapons programmes and for using harsh interrogation methods some believe amounted to torture on terrorism suspects.

Obama would not confirm that he will nominate Panetta for the post, but said Tuesday the former congressman’s experience in the White House would make him a suitable candidate.

“As chief of staff, he is … somebody who obviously was fully versed in international affairs, crisis management, and had to evaluate intelligence consistently on a day-to-day basis,” Obama said.

Obama’s choice also signals the challenge he endured in trying to find an experience intelligence official who could not be tied to the questionable policies of the Bush presidency, including the possible use of torture by the CIA to extract information from alleged terrorists.

Obama said he wants an intelligence team that will look to reform the bureaucracy and provide the president with objective analyses rather than formulate conclusions based on White House expectations.

Obama is reportedly also to name retired Navy admiral Dennis Blair to the post overseeing all US intelligences agencies, including the CIA.

Blair, 61, served as chief of US Pacific Command from 1999 to 2002 before retiring. Pacific Command manages all US military operations in the Asia-Pacific region.

The director of national intelligence, or intelligence czar, coordinates the espionage and information gathering activities of the nation’s 16 intelligence organisations.

In addition to the CIA, those include the Defence Intelligence Agency and the super secret National Security Agency, as well as outfits in the Army, Navy, Air Force, State Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Blair would also be responsible for providing the president with daily intelligence briefings, usually the first order of business for a president every morning. Obama said he was confident of his choices to run US foreign policy and national security.

“What people will see is that we are putting together a top-notch intelligence team,” Obama said.

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