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The Washington Independent
The Washington Independent

Panetta Wants Everyone to Take a Deep Breath

Congratulations, Leon Panetta. When you decided, unexpectedly, to become President Obama’s CIA director, did you anticipate spending one of your first major

Elisa Mueller
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | May 19, 2009

Congratulations, Leon Panetta. When you decided, unexpectedly, to become President Obama’s CIA director, did you anticipate spending one of your first major addresses defusing an escalation in congressional-CIA acrimony? His message to a Los Angeles foreign policy group yesterday became the second part of his response to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who last week accused the intelligence agency of misrepresenting briefings she received in 2002 about the Bush-era “enhanced interrogation” regime. Part one, directed to his employees, was about bolstering agency morale. This is about repairing the breach with Congress, according to Siobhan Gorman’s coverage:

He vowed to improve the broken relationship between the CIA and Congress, noting that he plans tomorrow morning to have coffee with a group of lawmakers outside the public spotlight. He said that, “as a creature of Congress” he believes Congress should try to learn the lessons of the past, but not to the point of diverting the attention of CIA officers.

Something he didn’t say but might have thought: during the Bush era, when the politicization of intelligence ran high, Democratic members of Congress embraced the CIA as a reality-based bastion against the Bush agenda. That was fairly easy to do, especially when Bush appointed Porter Goss, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, to the directorship of the agency and Goss began firing people presumed to be insufficiently loyal to Bush administration prerogatives. Congressional Democrats, led by Jane Harman (D-Calif.), made a point of distinguishing between the agency’s Bush-loyalist top management and the agency’s career personnel. And there the alignment remained, roughly, through Michael Hayden’s tenure as CIA director. Criticisms of the agency — on torture, for instance — were directed at policymakers, not implementers. Obviously, the Democrats were more comfortable with the agency’s intelligence analysts than with case officers charged with the more morally compromising work of espionage, but there weren’t many Democrats of note who issued broad indictments of the agency.

Pelosi is the first to collapse the distinction. Her accusation, in context, didn’t blame CIA case officers or line analysts for lying to her. But by not sharpening her charge, it’s understandable that agency employees — who labor in a culture that believes itself under constant siege from politicians –  would take it personally, and that’s what Panetta’s message on Friday was about. Congressional Republicans are right to see an opportunity to repair their iffy relationship with an agency that the party used as a whipping boy during the previous administration, even if they’re not going to defenestrate Pelosi.

Elisa Mueller | Elisa Mueller was born in Kansas City, Missouri, to a mother who taught reading and a father who taught film. As a result, she spent an excessive amount of her childhood reading books and watching movies. She went to the University of Kansas for college, where she earned bachelor's degrees in English and journalism. She moved to New York City and worked for Entertainment Weekly magazine for ten years, visiting film sets all over the world.


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