President-elect Barack Obama has not yet formally named Leon Panetta to lead the CIA, but today he praised the former White House chief of staff's management skills, political savvy and integrity -- defending his pick amidst complaints from some lawmakers about Panetta's lack of intelligence experience.
“I have the utmost respect for Leon Panetta. I think that he is one of the finest public servants that we've had,” Obama told reporters in Washington, DC.
As White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration, Panetta was fully versed in international affairs and crisis management and had to evaluate intelligence on a day-to-day basis, Obama said. At one point when a cell phone rang, Obama joked to reporters, "That may be him calling now, finding out where it's at."
Obama said his administration will have a "top-notch" intelligence team that will provide the best, unvarnished intelligence. (Although no announcement has been made, retired Adm. Dennis Blair is widely reported to be Obama's choice for director of national intelligence.) The new intelligence team will be forward-looking and will break with past practices that have tarnished the image of the CIA and U.S. foreign policy, Obama said. He also praised the work of U.S. intelligence professionals.
For an interesting defense of the pick, read this.
Meanwhile, Politico reports that Vice President-elect Joe Biden said today it was a mistake for the Obama camp not to give Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) a heads up about the Panetta pick. She chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Also: Newsweek reports Obama's camp is phoning key members of Congress to apologize for not providing advance notice of the pick.