CIA Nominee Panetta Touts Political Experience, Garners Bi-Partisan Support

By Josiah Ryan | February 5, 2009 | 7:22 PM EST

Central Intelligence Agency Director nominee Leon Panetta arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009, to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on his nomination. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

( – President Barack Obama’s nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Leon Panetta, touted his political experience in Washington during his confirmation hearing with the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Thursday. Despite his lack of experience in the intelligence field, he faced little opposition from committee members of either party.
When Panetta was first nominated on Jan. 5, however, senators from both sides of the aisle, including the chairman of the intelligence committee, expressed concerns about his lack of work experience in the professional intelligence community.  
However, “he has a lot of experience in this [intelligence field] through his time in the House and also being chief of staff and sitting in on all those briefings,” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, told after the hearing on Thursday. “Maybe having someone who hasn’t come up through the agency could be a positive thing.”
Panetta also touted his experience in the U.S. Army and hispolitical jobs in Washington as important experiences he will use to run the CIA.
“In short, what I bring is a broad range of experiences to this job,” Panetta told members of the committee in his opening statement.
Panetta counted as experience his time as an officer in the U.S. Army (1964 to 1966);  his 16 years as a member of the House of Representatives (1977 to 1993) in which he received “a great number of intelligence briefings;” his year as head of the Office of Management and Budget for the Clinton White House (1993-1994) in which he was in charge of “funds for  intelligence activities;” and his years as chief of staff of the Clinton White House (1994 to 1997) in which he received “some of the most sensitive intelligence our agencies produce.”
“I know Washington,” said Panetta. "I know why it fails to work.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif), the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, voiced no criticism of Panetta despite her contention in early January that the CIA should be run by an “intelligence professional.”

“I was not informed about the selection of Leon Panetta to be the CIA director,” said Feinstein upon hearing of his nomination. “My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time.” 
Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, came the closest to criticizing Panetta’s lack of professional intelligence experience in the hearing Thursday, saying it “raised a number of questions.”
“Many of us were surprised by your nomination because we believed that the next CIA director should have a professional intelligence background, which you clearly do not have,” said Bond. “This raises a number of questions that I will seek your answers to today and as the committee considers your nomination.''
The hearing, which was interrupted because of amendment votes in the Senate on President Obama’s pending stimulus package, is scheduled to continue at 10:00 a.m. today.
Senators are expected to question Panetta on his financial records, which were released to reporters on Wednesday.