MSNBC is reporting it and the New York Times is confirming it:
President-elect Barack Obama has selected Leon E. Panetta, the former congressman and White House chief of staff, to take over the Central Intelligence Agency, an organization that Mr. Obama criticized during the campaign for using interrogation methods he decried as torture, Democratic officials said Monday.
Mr. Panetta has a reputation in Washington as a competent manager with strong background in budget issues, but has little hands-on intelligence experience. If confirmed by the Senate, he will take control of the agency most directly responsible for hunting senior Al Qaeda leaders around the globe, but one that has been buffeted since the Sept. 11 attacks by leadership changes and morale problems.
Given his background, Mr. Panetta is a somewhat unusual choice to lead the C.I.A., an agency that has been unwelcoming to previous directors perceived as outsiders, such as Stansfield M. Turner and John M. Deutch. But his selection points up the difficulty Mr. Obama had in finding a C.I.A. director with no connection to controversial counterterrorism programs of the Bush era.
Is Panetta better than torture supporter John Brennan? Yes. But this still strikes me as an odd pick, considering that Panetta has no intelligence experience whatsoever. His management skills might be exemplary, but you’d think the head of an intelligence agency should know a thing or two about intelligence.
Then again, as the New York Times piece notes:
[T]wo of the agency’s most successful directors, John McCone and George H.W. Bush, had little or no intelligence intelligence experience when they took over at C.I.A.
So this might not be as odd of a pick as it first seems. Obama needs someone who can come to the agency without any major baggage, particularly support of the Bush administration’s questionable tactics.
Perhaps after eight years of implementing some disastrous policies and tactics, the CIA needs an outsider to clean things up. I guess we’ll just have to see how this gambit plays out.