Former CIA Director Leon Panetta said Donald Trump’s choice to lead the agency would have the task of telling the president things he didn’t want to hear.
If he’s confirmed by the Senate, Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo will lead the agency’s 21,500 employees worldwide.
Panetta, who led the CIA from 2009 to 2011 under President Barack Obama, said Pompeo should get to know and trust the professionals who work for the agency.
“The most important thing is to respect those who are doing the job at the CIA,” Panetta said in a phone interview with McClatchy. “They’re not Democrats. They’re not Republicans. They’re good Americans who are trying to do a very tough job.”
Panetta said good intelligence was “absolutely critical” when the country was facing a number of flashpoints around the world.
The most important thing is to respect those who are doing the job at the CIA. They’re not Democrats. They’re not Republicans. They’re good Americans who are trying to do a very tough job.
Former CIA Director Leon Panetta
“It’s going to be extremely important that our intel agencies, particularly the CIA, be capable and committed to finding the most credible intelligence possible,” he said. “I do think that any director has to recognize the professionalism within the CIA and allow people to be able to do their job and present their honest viewpoints.”
Trump may have chosen Pompeo because the three-term congressman from Wichita and outspoken member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence represents the president-elect’s views on national security.
But Panetta said Pompeo would have to get used to delivering the bad news along with the good, and Trump would have to get used to hearing it.
“I always felt the president wanted to hear the best intelligence we had whether he liked it or not,” Panetta said.
I always felt the president wanted to hear the best intelligence we had whether he liked it or not.
Panetta, a former congressman from California, said that Pompeo had a chance to improve the relationship between the agency and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
And, Panetta said, Pompeo should expect tough questions from Sen. Dianne Feinstein during the confirmation process. Pompeo had criticized the California Democrat after the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on CIA interrogation practices.
Even Panetta, a Democrat, said he’d found himself in the hot seat in front of Feinstein.
“I had a lot of respect for Dianne Feinstein,” Panetta said. “When I was first nominated, she expressed concerns that I did not come out of the (House) Intelligence Committee.”
Obama tapped Panetta to lead the agency at a time when it was under fire for its treatment of suspected terrorists, subjecting them to a variety of harsh interrogation methods, including waterboarding, that many regard as torture.
President Barack Obama tapped Panetta to lead agency at a time when it was under fire for its treatment of suspected terrorists, subjecting them to a variety of interrogation methods, including waterboarding, that many regard as torture.
“When the president asked me to become the CIA director, he was clear he wanted someone who could restore the credibility of the CIA,” Panetta said. “He gave me the room to do the things I thought was necessary.”
Pompeo has defended the legality of the CIA’s practices, the personnel who carried them out and the intelligence they produced. During the presidential campaign, Trump suggested that his administration might bring back the techniques.
“That could be an area in which there are some serious concerns,” Panetta said. “Any effort to do that still has to meet the test of our Constitution.”
Pompeo will carry out Trump’s policies. Voters may have endorsed candidate Trump’s views on national security, but as president he’s obligated to stay within legal bounds.
Pompeo will carry out Trump’s policies. Voters may have endorsed candiate Trump’s views on national security, but as president, he’s obligated to stay within legal bounds.
“My hope is that all of them recognize,” Panetta said, “that regardless of the political position that in the end they have a responsibility to follow the law.”
Overall, Panetta said, Pompeo is “a pretty good choice” to lead the CIA.
“I’ve had a chance to talk with him during hearings on the Hill,” Panetta said. “He’s someone who has very good credentials and understands what intel is all about.”
“He knows what the agency’s responsibilities are,” Panetta said. “I believe he’s interested in doing a good job.”
Pompeo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.