Sen. Diane Feinstein is reportedly fuming that Barack Obama picked Leon Panetta as his new CIA Director and never consulted with her.
Feinstein, the incoming chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, issued a sharp statement Monday that was a thinly veiled criticism of the pick. The statement made it clear that she had expected a career intelligence professional – unlike Panetta, who has no intelligence expertise whatsoever – to be leading the CIA.
"I was not informed about the selection of Leon Panetta to be the CIA Director,’’ Feinstein said.
“I know nothing about this, other than what I've read," said Senator Feinstein, who will chair the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in the 111th Congress. "My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time."
Panetta could face tough questions at his nomination hearing about his background in intelligence.
A former senior CIA official who advises Obama defended the surprise choice of Panetta, whose only military and intelligence experience is a two-year stint in the mid-1960s as a U.S. Army lieutenant.
The official told the Associated Press that Panetta had been a consumer of CIA intelligence when he was at the White House.
The source said Panetta was selected for his administrative, management and political skills that will allow him both to control and advocate for the agency.
The official added that Panetta will rely on the expertise of CIA officers to balance his lack of personal intelligence experience.
Veterans of the CIA were caught off guard by the selection.
"I'm at a loss," said Robert Grenier, a former director of the CIA's counterterrorism center and 27-year veteran of the agency who now is managing director of Kroll, a security consulting company.
The lack of intelligence experience puts Panetta at "a tremendous disadvantage," Grenier told The Associated Press in an interview.
"Intelligence, by its very nature, is an esoteric world. And right now the agency is confronted with numerous pressing challenges overseas, and to have no background is a serious deficit. I don't say that he can't succeed. It may be that he can compensate for the obvious deficit."
Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., ranking member of the committee, raised the specter of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 in questioning Panetta's experience after reports surfaced that Obama had tapped the former congressman and White House chief of staff to head the CIA.
“Job number one at the CIA is to track down and stop terrorists," Bond said in a statement reported by The Hill Web site. "In a post-9-11 world, intelligence experience would seem to be a prerequisite for the job of CIA Director."
Bond said that he will refrain from judging Panetta immediately, but he warned Obama and Panetta that he "will be looking hard at Panetta’s intelligence expertise and qualifications.”
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