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Panetta Is Not Uncured Italian Bacon

That’s pancetta. A Christmas fruit cake is a panettone, and a toasted sandwich is a panini.  All come from the word for bread, “pane.”  I have been on the phone nearly constantly since yesterday’s revelation that the next DCI will be Leon Panetta.  Most former CIA officers think it is a good choice since Panetta is moderate, reasonable, and understanding of Washington’s ways.  There is a fiction going around that the head of CIA has to be an intelligence officer.  I would argue that he has to be a civilian for all kinds of good reasons, but he does not actually have to understand in detail how the Agency runs operations and does its analysis.  The Director has to be able to learn enough to be able to stand by the intelligence product and explain it, but he will have plenty of experienced professionals in place guiding him until he is ready to make his own judgments.  If he is smart, which reportedly he is, he will watch, listen, and ask a lot of questions.  His job is to make sure that the best possible analysis is being produced and that it is presented as dispassionately as possible to the policy makers.  That is what George Tenet failed to do, becoming himself involved in the intelligence product and its exploitation.

The choice of Panetta also has to be seen as a plus because it reportedly really upset Senator Diane Feinstein, who was not consulted by Obama even though she is the new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.  Feinstein was reportedly pushing for fellow Californian Congresswoman Jane Harman to get the nod.  Harman would have been a disaster in the position as CIA bureaucrats would have moved immediately to undercut her.  Agency staffers who have dealt with her on the House Intelligence Committee report her to be someone who knows everything but understands nothing, though that description could reasonably be applied to most congressmen.

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#1 Comment By WRW On January 6, 2009 @ 12:26 pm

After the gross failure of Porter Goss, Obama wisely avoided Harman (who has a chip on her shoulder from losing the Intel Committee chairmanship.)

Panetta seems to be careful and (unlike Goss) will not want to harm either his current reputation or his future prospects by dropping the ball at CIA. After 8 years of Bush (admittedly, the current DCI seems to be pretty good), careful is good.

#2 Comment By Beau Martin On January 6, 2009 @ 3:33 pm

The primary disqualifier (IMO) about Harmon is her fanatical devotion to Israel, going beyond the average Capitol Hill kowtow, to the extent that she has been rumored to be a possible conduit of high level classified intelligence to Tel Aviv. There is also ittle doubt that Harmon would attempt to implement a purge of CIA rank and file – demanded for years by the neocons – that would leave it little more than a very large and well equipped branch office of the Mossad.

#3 Comment By Jack Tracey On January 7, 2009 @ 4:10 pm

“I would argue that he has to be a civilian for all kinds of good reasons, but he does not actually have to understand in detail how the Agency runs operations and does its analysis.”

Larry Bossidy might take exception to the second clause of this sentence. Anyone who wants to be a good executive or hire one (and that includes voting for one) should read Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done.

Some might dismiss business management fundamentals as impertinent to the political world, but that bias makes their application to the political environment all the more opportune.

The failure of the “CEO administration”– as the Bushies billed themselves on entering the White House– to look below “10,000 feet” just highlighted the reason that Bossidy’s treatise was so badly needed (and so widely consumed) in the business world. Maybe it’s also time for executives in the Executive branch to actually know how it works.

#4 Comment By harry potter On July 18, 2009 @ 10:26 pm

who cares ………. when are americans going to realise that noone in the world cares what you idiots do …….. for all we care, let a slice of pancetta be the next dci…. hell, italian bacon is probably smarter than most americans