Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Stupid is as Stupid Does

It is said that you are judged by the people you keep. Your friends say a lot about you, but so does a person’s judgement towards people chosen to be business associates. If this is the criteria, then President-Elect Obama is pretty close to stupid is as stupid does. We can get into the whole breadth of Chicago comrades he has kept, but that has been hashed over ad infinitum throughout the election. Today as President-elect, a job he will hold for at least four years and have direct governance over our lives, his cabinet and staff become even more important than the suspected influence of his past.

They also say, even a blind man can find something once in a while, so it should be credited that some of his picks for posts could have been worse. I guess that is our silver lining, albeit tarnished. But the recent issues involving Rahm “me know nothing” Emmanuel with the Blago fiasco, Bill “hand stuck in the cookie jar” Richardson and Tom “Wife, what wife?” Daschle just goes to show a selection process that is flawed, considering how many questions seem to have been ignored on the ethics questionnaire.

Today, however, Obama has stepped off the cliff without a parachute. The selection of Leon Panetta at CIA involves an intricate level of idiocy almost too difficult to describe. You know you are heading down the wrong path when, Obama as a democrat, can irritate Senator Feinstein. This decision is also a personal one for me, having worked in the past at CIA for almost 13 years. I worked within the Director’s staff and have seen two transitions of presidents, as well as a number of different CIA Director appointments. In each case the person selected for the job had detailed and long term experience with the inner workings of the intelligence community. Tenet may have been the least qualified of the ones I worked for, but even then he was a better candidate than Panetta. I remember people expressing concern with Tenet’s appointment, but that quickly subsided as he turned out to be quite adapt at the position.

The position of CIA Director requires extensive knowledge of how intelligence gathering systems work, individually and together. You must understand how the program managers, responsible for their portion of the intelligence gather process, work in concert to create homogenized intelligence material, the main purpose of which belongs to the CIA. But the appointment of Panetta disregards all historical precedent. This worries me, because we are still reeling from the the damage Bill Clinton did to the Human Intelligence collection capability. I personally fault Bill Clinton for 911 for many reasons I won’t go into. With Panetta, however, it appears that Obama may be heading down a similar road, where the intelligence material provided by the agency is discounted or at least diminished in importance. I know the argument that CIA has made mistakes. Well all government agency’s do, but CIA gets it right more often than they are wrong, they just can’t talk about it.

It hasn’t been announced yet, but Obama intents to appoint Dennis Blair as the National Intelligence Director. Previous to the establishment of the National Intelligence Director, the Director of CIA effectively had that position. Blair is a good candidate (wonder how he slipped through) but even he doesn’t have the detailed experience in the intelligence world of someone like James Woolsey. But with Blair at NID, it appears even more obvious that Obama wants his intelligence source closer to home and for CIA to be thrown to the edge of relevancy.

A Panetta appointment will certainly effect the operational process of the agency for years to come, exactly when we need it to be engaged in the overall intelligence picture. Technology intelligence sources are wonderful things and they are very capable, but without the ground truth from boots in the field, the human intelligence gathering spies at CIA, the other sources are worth no more than speculation. The industry has a term called “All-Source Intelligence”. Its there for a reason. You cannot get the big picture without each part being fully analyzed. Its obvious that Obama wants to pick and chose what fits his world view without being bothered by the details or facts.

For once in my life, I agree with Senator Feinstein. I hope she makes her point clear and Panetta can go back to worrying about the ocean and the Monterey Aquarium, both good endeavors but hardly qualifying of someone needed to deal with the world’s most serious issues.

In response to: Leon Panetta to Head CIA


machinepolitick said...

This administration is looking more like a train wreck everyday. It raises some serious concerns about our future in America.

Anonymous said...

Yes this "pick' just burns me. I was there when Woolsey could not get a single meeting with Clinton. It just demoralized everyone. It gave the impression that their hard work was meaningless. Then when Clinton performed the "human rights" scrub at the agency, it effectively ended all spying right at the time Al-Queda was coming into their own. tenet trying but also couldn't get clinton to listen. Now just when the human intelligence sources have been rebuilt, along come the selection of Panetta. That is a woolsey move all over again. It effectively says, We don't care about intelligence and you guys over at CIA can just work out your problems while we look at other thing of interest.

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