CIA Director Leon Panetta: Incompetence Incarnate

Leon Panetta, who is Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is by all accounts an upstanding and ethical individual who has had a long and illustrious career in Washington.

It is sad that he has been so utterly incompetent while heading the CIA.

In an excellent expose by Joseph Finder on the Daily Beast, it becomes clear that Panetta, like much of the Obama Administration, is the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The heart of the story was the breaking news several months ago that the CIA was hiding information from the Congress, against Federal Law.  The CIA had a ‘program’ (if you can call it that) studying whether assassination teams would be effective in the war on terror.  Basically, for the past 8 years this program had never gotten off a jump drive…it was basically a Powerpoint presentation. Nothing had been implemented, nothing had gone into action.  Several of Bush’s own CIA directors cared so little about the program that they never mentioned it to Bush, Cheney, or anyone else in the White House.

Then Mr. Panetta came in.  He was apparently told about the program incidentally during a meeting with the antiterrorism unit.  On June 23, in the course of a routine briefing by the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, Panetta first learned about the assassination squads.  So what does he do?  He runs scared to Congress, thinking that maybe the CIA had broken the law.  He didn’t talk to his predecessors, or anyone else, before picking up the phone and whining to Congress.  It was only days later, after talking to previous CIA directors, that Panetta realized how huge a mistake he had made.

Panetta’s second mistake was trusting Congress.  In a bid to protect Nancy Pelosi (who had clearly lied about her knowledge and involvement in CIA dealings over the past many years), they did what Congress always does.  They leaked the information.  Panetta was hoping to get time to revise his statements to Congress, but that never happened.

So now, what is the repercussions?  Well, Panetta created a controversy where there was no controversy.  He gave information (Top Secret information at that) to Congress, which they promptly leaked for pure political reasons.  Congress, in their usual ‘boulder rolling down a hill’ way, have to go ahead with full-scale hearings, the last thing the CIA needs right now.  Congress has lost faith in the CIA even though the CIA was totally within the bounds of the law.  Panetta has lost faith in his Congressional colleagues for leaking information.  And many of the members of the CIA have lost faith in Panetta, who clearly appeared to be covering his own backside than worrying about the reputation of the Agency.

This is what happens when you put inexperienced people in charge of complex and difficult bureaucracies.