Intel Chiefs Blair and Panetta: Today Is The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Lives
Later this morning, President-elect Barack Obama is expected to make it official and announce that Adm. Dennis Blair (ret.) and former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta are his choices to lead the intelligence community. The friction between Panetta and Sen. Dianne Feinstein is over, and there hasn’t been any significant opposition to Blair in Congress, so it would take something rather dramatic to derail their nominations at this point.
Now it’s up to Panetta and Blair to explain what exactly they intend to do in their jobs. For a primer on the endless number of Maalox moments that await the intelligence community’s leadership, check out this piece of mine from last year. To the points I listed, you can add the possibility of a congressionally-mandated inquiry into rendition, detention and torture. Why anyone would want these jobs, I simply do not know.
But anyway. Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times is hearing that the order of the day is to roll back the torture programs of the Bush administration:
Aides to Mr. Obama say they have no intention of directing Mr. Panetta to oust C.I.A. officials who played a role in the agency’s secret interrogation and detention program. Instead, they say, the new administration will focus on reversing the rules that authorized the C.I.A. to carry out aggressive interrogations.
Mazzetti’s piece reports that there’s concern within CIA — rather naturally — that Panetta might throw the agency to the congressional dogs. But isn’t it really the other way around? The leakers are setting up a media narrative whereby Panetta has to be dependent on agency veterans to be effective. Hence the retention of Steve Kappes as CIA deputy director, which raises some questions for Jeff Stein of CQ:
But will Kappes be Panetta’s loyal consigliore, or double-dealing protector of the way things are? Can he be said to be the new leader’s agent of “change,” implementing a break from the agency’s record as obedient servant on water-boarding, secret extraditions to foreign dungeons and warrantless wiretapping?
Jeff’s piece brings me something new under the sun: blind quotes from agency veterans defending the reign of former CIA Director Porter Goss, who purged CIA of alleged Bush skeptics, Kappes included. In particular, they think that Kappes will manipulate the incoming director, as he allegedly did to Goss. (I can’t believe I’m writing that sentence.) Now, I generally find the portrayal of CIA operations people as hidebound protectors of the status quo to be superficial — the status quo is always changing, so what’s really to defend? — but it stands to reason that Kappes would over-portray his recent initiatives as successful ones to the still-innocent-in-the-ways-of-CIA Panetta. And Kappes apparently has a pretty serious patron in Feinstein, the new chairwoman of the Senate intelligence community. Kappes may be Panetta’s deputy, but he has entirely separate power bases. It’s certainly premature to say this, but it’s not difficult to see that potentially developing into a fault line within the agency.