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Leon Panetta - Profile of Leon Panetta, CIA Director


Leon Panetta, CIA Director
U.S. Government


Director of the Central Intelligence Agency

The CIA director used to be the head of the entire body of intelligence agencies. Since 2005, when the intelligence community of the U.S. was reorganized, the director of the CIA has reported the Director of National Intelligence. The CIA is probably the most widely known of the 16 intelligence agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community. It is home to the national clandestine service and the agency out of which covert operations originate.

Professional Background:

Panetta was scrutinized in the press when he was nominated for his lack of an intelligence background. Rather, he has had several influential posts in politics and public service.

Panetta, 70 years old, was trained as a lawyer in his home state of California and served in the army in the mid-1960s. He has had a varied career since then, composed of intermittent stints in Washington in various government administrative posts, private law firm practice and work as a California representative in Congress from 1977 to 1993.

He served as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget before becoming the White House Chief of Staff under Bill Clinton.

When he was tapped for the CIA position, he was running the Panetta Institute, which he founded in 1997 with his wife Sylvia. The Institute is housed by California State University and is dedicated to the study of public policy.


Panetta's views on controversial CIA practices in the war on terror during the Bush administration played an important part in his selection and confirmation by Congress. He has indicated that the U.S. should always operate within the limits of established law.

At his hearing, Panetta established several clear priorities. These included improving intelligence on Al Qaeda, Iran's nuclear intentions and relationship to terrorism, Afghanistan, North Korea, Iraq and potential cyber threats against U.S. communications infrastructure.

He also suggested that whereas others might see the subordination of the CIA to the new Directorate of Intelligence, he viewed it as freeing the Agency to concentrate on its essential functions, human intelligence gathering and covert actions.

Finally, Panetta promised to reinvigorate the relationship with Congress, implying that under the previous administration, the CIA had elided Congressional oversight of its activities.


Although he was successfully confirmed, Panetta may face challenges from within the various bureacracies in which he must function because of his lack of prior intelligence experience.

A second challenge lies in the much reduced reputation of the CIA after the September 11, 2001 attacks; mistaken estimates about WMD in Iraq before 2003; and practices such as torture and rendition. Panetta indicated in his answers to pre-confirmation questions that he would encourage more transparency and more specificity in the evidence and conclusions brought before Congress, and foster an atmosphere where respect of outlying opinions would override potential groupthink.

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