February 11th, 2009
03:58 PM ET
14 years ago

Senate Committee approves CIA chief

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/02/11/art.pannetta.gi.jpg caption="Panetta has been confirmed."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Senate Intelligence Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to send the nomination of Leon Panetta as CIA Director to the full Senate for confirmation.

If approved, the 70-year-old Panetta would become the oldest person to head the spy agency.

Panetta was an eight term Congressman from central California who chaired the powerful House Budget Committee before moving over to the Clinton White House as the Budget Director and later as the President's Chief of Staff. He left government in 1997 and returned to California where he and his wife created the Leon and Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy, a non-profit foundation.

During his confirmation hearing, Panetta was peppered with questions about the Bush Administration's controversial interrogation, detention and rendition program and President Obama's efforts to change the policy.

Panetta called waterboarding, the interrogation technique which simulates drowning, torture, but he said the intelligence officers who carried it out should not be prosecuted.

He conceded the executive orders signed by President Obama limiting interrogation techniques to the 19 outlined in the Army Field Manual might not be enough. Panetta said he would not hesitate to go to the President and ask for additional authority if there was "a ticking bomb situation."

Panetta vowed not to send suspected terrorists to other countries where they would be tortured. But he insisted renditions are an "appropriate tool" if the U.S. receives assurances from the receiving country the individuals will not be treated inhumanely.

Closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility was going to be very difficult, said Panetta. Although some prisoners will be tried and others transferred to other countries, Panetta acknowledged there may be a group of prisoners who will have to be detained without trial for a long time.

Panetta said he did not see the need for any whole sale changes at the agency. The CIA has the tools to deal with the threats, said the nominee, but it needs to stress the training, language capabilities and diversity that will produce better intelligence.

Panetta's nomination initially created a stir among both Democrats and Republicans who questioned his lack of experience in the intelligence community at a time when the U.S. was fighting two wars and battling terrorists. But his lack of experience barely got mentioned at his confirmation hearing. Senators seemed satisfied that he had the confidence of the President, would have a good working relationship with Congress and that he was retaining the top leadership at the CIA.

Panetta was not the first choice to head the spy agency. John Brennan, a career intelligence officer who last headed the National Counter Terrorism Center, was the leading candidate until liberal bloggers effectively torpedoed the nomination by linking Brennan to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques and the preemptive war in Iraq.

Brennan said he was not involved in the decision making process for those policies, but he withdrew his name from consideration. Sources close to Brennan said he was pushed by the Obama transition team to step aside. Brennan was subsequently appointed by President Obama to be his homeland security advisor at the White House, a position that does not need congressional approval.

Filed under: Leon Panetta
soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. Latte Sipping Leftie

    Took long enough. I wonder what Feinstein is thinking. I'm sure Mr. Panetta will restore integrity back in to the intelligence community.

    February 11, 2009 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  2. Vote for Change

    Only in America can somebody with abosutely no pertinent job experience can rise up through the ranks to lead the CIA, or for that matter, the country.

    February 11, 2009 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  3. Ray Ray

    Anyone checked to see if Leon has paid his taxes??

    Obviously it wouldn't matter to Obama when making appointments... but for the rest of us tax-paying stiffs...let's have a look just for kicks and giggles.

    February 11, 2009 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  4. William A. Schaedler from St. Louis

    That's funny. He goes from being Clinton's office boy to head of the CIA. Of course he knows nothing about the CIA, but under this administration he certainly fulfills the requirements.

    February 11, 2009 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  5. pete

    Wow, more breaking news on Obama tax cheating appointments. It turns our Rahm has been living rent free for seven years in the house of one of his house of representatives buddies. His buddies' wife has been paid all kinds of lobbying money by Rahm's business, and Rahm has received rent free living for seven years in return. Sounds like Rahm has gotten a free car and driver from an employer that he failed to pay taxes on.

    I enjoy the circus music.

    February 11, 2009 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |


    February 11, 2009 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  7. Peter


    February 11, 2009 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  8. Ben in Dallas

    If any one should be prosecuted it is the Shrub, Cheney and Rumsfeld (sp). They went against the rules of civilization, the Geveva conventions and the best discipline of the armed forces. They set back world opinion and the eroded the humanity for which the US is known.

    February 11, 2009 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  9. Brian

    Is this CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN?? Zero experience in the intelligence sector...yet his nomination is confirmed. Even Democrats have to be shaking their heads on this one...

    February 11, 2009 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  10. Jacque Bauer

    More square pegs into round holes. Keep it up O'man...

    February 11, 2009 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  11. Ben in Dallas

    Dear William,

    Do you have any thing to say about the crimes of the Bush administration?

    February 11, 2009 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  12. Larry Houston Texas

    Panetta isn't no dummy, he's smart / intelligent.....and has a load of experience in the capitol...He should be the one for the Job, period !

    February 11, 2009 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  13. Sherry for Obama

    CNN....Thank's for printing this....This will be something else the repu's can complain about.....something they do so well.

    February 11, 2009 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  14. Sniffit

    @ Willian A Schaedler from St. Louis

    You win today's "I didn't read the article so my post is completely off base and has nothing to do with the facts" award.

    February 11, 2009 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  15. TCM

    hmmm....CHANGE! Another Clinton retread...did he pay his taxes?

    February 11, 2009 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  16. Baze

    A unanimous confirmation? What about all that crap about him not having enough experience in the intelligence community? I'm so sick of politics as usual.

    February 11, 2009 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  17. Jim

    This should be interesting. For some one with no experience in this area to head the agency. Wow. The little o is really reaching. Of course he has been reaching all along.

    February 11, 2009 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  18. Ben in Dallas

    When willl you republican trolls understand that your failed philosophy, your mean spirited attitudes and your love of ignorance have been rejected by the American people. If you can't help solve the problem then sit back and try to learn from your mistakes. Oops, that would mean that you would have to be in touch with reality, not republican cant and doctrine.

    February 11, 2009 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  19. Jon in CA

    Ben in Dalls – 3 posts on one article... really?? That much idle time on your hands??

    Does your shift at KFC not start until the evening hours or what??

    February 11, 2009 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  20. CHANGE we need

    CIA chief with no intelligence experience. Tax chief that cheats on his taxes. HHS nominee that follows in the Tax chief's ethics. All coming from a president who is still in the OJT program. This IS the change we all need.

    February 11, 2009 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  21. GuyInVA

    Dee Dee Myers for Secretary Of Defense... makes about as much sense.

    February 11, 2009 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  22. Betty

    Wait a minute. Didn't we say "no" to John McCain because of his age and now we want to put an old fart in the CIA seat...and one who has zero intelligence experience.

    Oh boy, it sure sounds like we are making better changes; NOT.

    February 11, 2009 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  23. Once you vote Black

    Here PUMA, come here PUMA, are you up a tree?

    February 11, 2009 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |