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Panetta Hearing: Underway

And we’re off. One thing I didn’t anticipate in my preview of CIA Director-designate Leon Panetta’s confirmation hearing is a question about his speaking fees. Which aren’t, you know, illegal or unethical. Still, watch for this as a hearing subplot.

Here’s Senate intelligence committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a former Panetta skeptic. She calls him a “clean break” from torture and manipulated intelligence and pledges her support. Feinstein, a big supporter of deputy CIA director and legendary operative Steve Kappes, makes a point of praising Kappes and says Panetta “will ensure [CIA] operates in a professional manner that reflects its true value to the country.” Interestingly, she says Panetta has promised to “reduce CIA’s reliance on contractors” and will inform the “full committee” — not just its leadership — of covert actions.

Let’s skip Vice Chairman Kit Bond’s (R-Mo.) opening statement. Up on the Senate intelligence committee’s website is Panetta’s responses to prepared questions. Check out how he describes his priorities.

If confirmed, I will have three immediate priorities. First, along with my deputy Steve Kappes, I plan to review all Agency operations to assess where we have critical gaps and where we ought to focus our operational resources. This will require a careful review of the Agency’s principal analytic assessments and scrutiny of how resources are allocated across CIA.

Second, I plan to work with Admiral Blair to forge greater collaboration between the DNI and CIA. The existing laws and Executive Orders speak to this relationship, but much has to be worked out between the leadership of the two organizations to ensure greater efficiency and coordination. I am committed to making this new structure work.

Third, I plan to review the relationship between the CIA and Congress to determine how to strengthen consultation with the Intelligence Committees, as well as other Committees of jurisdiction.

In addition to these three strategic priorities, I plan to review some key management issues facing the Agency, such as the over-reliance on contractors and the question of whether we are recruiting a talent pool this is diverse enough and sufficiently language-proficient to fulfill our operational requirements.

Oh, charmingly, Bond suggested that he’ll be asking Panetta about his finances to ensure there isn’t a “counterintelligence” question. Did someone accuse Leon Panetta of being a foreign agent or something?

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