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Obama to name Panetta to lead CIA, Blair as intelligence chief

  • Story Highlights
  • Next Senate intelligence chairwoman says she wasn't told Panetta was picked
  • Sen. Feinstein: CIA best served by "an intelligence professional in charge"
  • Panetta is Barack Obama's choice for CIA director, two Democratic officials say
  • Officials: Retired Adm. Dennis Blair to be tapped as director of national intelligence
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From Ed Henry
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Leon Panetta, chief of staff in President Bill Clinton's White House, will be President-elect Barack Obama's choice to be CIA director, two Democratic officials told CNN on Monday.

Adm. Dennis Blair, then commander of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Command, addresses reporters in 2001.

Leon Panetta, who has a strong background in economics, was chief of staff for President Bill Clinton.

The officials also said retired Adm. Dennis Blair, who formerly headed the U.S. Navy's Pacific Command, will be tapped as director of national intelligence.

Panetta, 70, has had a long political career, beginning in 1966 when he served as a legislative assistant to U.S. Sen. Thomas H. Kuchel. R-California.

He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1977, serving California's 16th (now 17th) District until Clinton appointed him to head the Office of Budget and Management in 1993. He was chief of staff from 1994 to 1997.

Panetta and his wife, Sylvia, founded and co-direct the Leon and Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy at California State University, which provides study opportunities for students there and at several other schools. He serves on several boards and committees, and lectures internationally on economics.

With a strong background in economics, Panetta has little hands-on experience in intelligence. But he is known as a strong manager with solid organizational skills.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who will be the new chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she had not been told in advance of Panetta's selection.

"My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time," the California Democrat said.

But Sen. Ron Wyden, a senior member of the Intelligence Committee, said he was consulted on the pick and praised Panetta.

"I believe he has the skills to usher in a new era of accountability at the nation's premier intelligence agency," said Wyden, D-Oregon. "For too long our nation's intelligence community has operated under a policy of questionable effectiveness and legality in which consulting two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee counted as 'consulting with Congress.' "

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Missouri, the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, also questioned Panetta's lack of intelligence experience, as did outgoing committee chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, wouldn't comment until Obama makes an announcement, but his spokesman said that Hoekstra "has called for a new direction and a change in the culture a the CIA for some time."

"Whether it is Leon Panetta or someone else, it is important the agency move in a new direction," Jamal Ware said.

Blair, 61, was a 1968 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and attended Oxford University in Britain as a Rhodes scholar at the same time as Clinton. Blair retired from the Navy in 2002.

He was the CIA's first associate director of military support and served on the National Security Council.

He has been sharply critical of U.S. policy in terms of strategic long-term planning. Share your thoughts on Obama's cabinet picks

"I am in awe of the sophisticated strategies that American politicians can devise and pursue over many years," he told a House panel in July. "They involve very public activities -- speeches, programs, alliances -- but also backroom deals, and stratagems, tactical flexibility but strategic constancy, investment in intellectual and organizational capabilities that will not pay off for years.

"I have yet to see these same brilliant politicians come up with similar strategies to advance the national interest when they come into national office. Our national strategies show little of the depth, brilliance and effectiveness of the domestic political strategies this country produces."

Blair also is known in Navy circles for once trying to water-ski behind the destroyer he skippered, the USS Cochrane.

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