By Frances Fragos Townsend
Editor's note: Frances Fragos Townsend, a
CNN contributor on national security issues, formerly served as President George
W. Bush's chief anti-terrorism and homeland security adviser. Townsend has spent
more than two decades in the fields of intelligence and criminal justice and has
served during the past three administrations. Townsend is currently a consultant
to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a member of President Bush's Intelligence
Advisory Board, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Aspen Institute
Homeland Security Program.
Frances Townsend says the director of the CIA
is not a post for on-the-job training.
(CNN) -- Leon Panetta is an
impressive man with many laudable achievements to his credit.
served eight terms in Congress and worked in the Clinton White House as chief of
staff to the president and director of the Office of Management and
But his impressive credentials are insufficient to allay the
well-founded concerns of senior Democrats and Republicans that he is the wrong
man to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Mr. Panetta is a seasoned political operative and a proven
manager -- both of which would be useful to him as CIA director -- but more is
Accurate and actionable intelligence is among our most effective
tools in fighting against terror threats. The nation has gone more than seven
years without a terrorist attack and much of the credit for that lies with the
men and women of the intelligence community: in the CIA, FBI, and Defense and
Homeland Security departments, among others.
Career intelligence officials
need a leader they can count on to protect their mission from inappropriate
political interference and who would be willing to defend their efforts when, as
is often the case, they are attacked based on less than accurate or complete
Because of the critical role the intelligence community plays in
protecting our nation, the director of the CIA is not a position for on-the-job
training. President-elect Barack Obama had a competent, qualified career
intelligence official to nominate.
John Brennan served for decades at the
CIA under numerous directors and in both Democratic and Republican
Just prior to his retirement, Mr. Brennan served as the
director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, the predecessor to the
current National Counterterrorism Center. John Brennan had no loyalty to the
policies of the Bush administration and in fact at times voiced his
Mr. Brennan's loyalty was to the mission and role of the
intelligence community in protecting our nation. Unfortunately, the incoming
administration permitted the vicissitudes of party politics and special
interests to derail this nomination.
[In a letter to Obama obtained by CNN
in early December, Brennan said he was dropping out of consideration for the job
because of strong criticism by people who associated his work at the CIA with
controversial Bush administration policies on interrogation techniques and the
pre-emptive war in Iraq.]
The next CIA director has many important issues to
confront. He or she must continue to ensure adequate resources for the
intelligence community and continue to build our human and technical
The new director will necessarily review
detention, interrogation and rendition policies. And at the same time, the CIA
director must seek new ways to gain the intelligence advantage on crucial
priorities such as terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and a
host of regional issues in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
who becomes the next CIA director, the nation is fortunate that from the deputy
director on down, the CIA is run by career officials who will continue to do the
nation's business. But they will continue to require the tools necessary to do
Before abrogating Bush Administration policies on interrogation and
detention, the new CIA director must learn: what is legal; what is effective;
and how have these policies been implemented.
A new administration may choose
to make more limited use of these tools or add additional procedural safeguards.
But any decision must be made with caution.
Tools that the Justice
Department deem legal and the intelligence community determines are effective
must not be taken away because they are politically unpopular. The nation and
the intelligence community deserve better and must be led with the same courage
that they have displayed.
President-elect Obama is
off to a strong start, taking daily intelligence briefings and asking probing
questions. If Mr. Panetta is to be the next CIA director, he will need to earn
the trust, confidence and respect of career intelligence officials.
Panetta will need these career intelligence officers to best advise the new
president on the CIA capabilities at his disposal to support critical foreign
policy and national security objectives.
The most important objective will
remain protecting American lives. Mr. Panetta is smart and no doubt a quick
study. Let's pray if he is confirmed that he is up to the difficult job ahead of
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frances
Right. Does it really matter who is in charge of the CIA? I mean, anyone can claim credit for things not happening. Ooh, no terrorist attacks in the past 7 years! Yeah, there were no terrorist attacks before 2001 for how many years?
Let's not forget what a bang up job the CIA has done in the past on everything else:
- Putting Castro in power in Cuba - whoops!
- Putting Sadam Hussein in power in Iraq - whoops!
- Putting Osama Bin Laden in charge of Al-Queda and training them in the very tactics they use against us now? - big fuckin' WHOOPS!
- Failing to do anything about the planned attack on Sept. 11, 2001 - dur!
- Failing to stop drugs from entering our country from South America - well, they do this on purpose to get funding, so I guess that's our whoops for letting them.
At this point I'm convinced Gumby could run the damn CIA and it wouldn't matter too much.