The Campaign Spot

What Awaits Obama’s CIA Pick, Leon Panetta

Boy, I hope Leon Panetta knows what he’s getting himself into.

George Tenet’s At The Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA, page 21:

On a typical day as DCI, I pretty much felt as if I had been shot out of a cannon. People were always queued up wanting my undivided attention on dozens of unrelated matters. I bounced from meeting to meeting, with people thrusting thick briefing books into my hands and snatching them away almost before I’d had a chance to digest the first page . . .

My workday actually began at about ten o’clock the previous night. That’s when a printer in the basement command post would start to hum with the first draft of the next day’s intelligence briefing for the president. The President’s Daily Briefing, or PDB, as we called it, was our most important product. Most nights I would spend an hour or so reviewing the draft articles comprising the PDB, then call the PDB night editor with suggestions on needed changes and areas that required greater explanations . . .

Tenet goes through a typical day as CIA director: Awake at 5:45 a.m., out the door no later than 6:30, briefing the president at the White House at 8 a.m.

My role was to provide color commentary and to provide the larger context.  Since I had been around for a while, I could often give some of the historical underpinnings for why other governments were acting as they were.

Maybe Panetta has been keeping up with foreign affairs and will be able to give some of that context and historical underpinnings. But he clearly hasn’t been getting the classified versions of recent events . . .

Three days a week there was the “Principals Committee” meeting in the Situation Room, and then Tenet was back to headquarters at Langley by 10 a.m., meetings all day and into the early evening. This isn’t counting the foreign travel:

With so much swirling around and through me, I often felt as if I were trying to watch eight television shows at once.

Another big part of the DCI’s role was to maintain contact with the heads of foreign intelligence services . . . These meetings were often held at the cost of other pressing matters, but these vital relationships needed careful tending if it ever became necessary to call in the chits from our side. After 9/11, the time invested in such meetings paid off in willing partners ready to help us in a common cause when so much was on the line.

I went often, and I kept going back, to build the personal relationships that might at some point yield a breakthrough. You need to put capital in these countries’ banks — including, in my case, the capital of your own time — respect their sovereignty, and as a normal practice, refrain from sticking your finger in their chests.

(Panetta will be deferring on part of these duties to the incoming Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair.)

Oh, wait, then there’s Capitol Hill:

Responding to the requests (and sometimes demands) of Congress was an equally large part of the job. I participated in hundreds of closed-door hearings and briefings during my tenure, not just for our two oversight committees but  also before a half dozen other committees that thought they were owed a piece of my time.

Look, maybe Panetta is such a quick learner that he can handle all of these myriad responsibilties and get up to speed on the dozens, perhaps hundreds of pressing issues that will arise in the coming months. But hitting the ground running would be a daunting task for a man with half of Panetta’s 70 years.

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