In this era of hyper partisanship in Congress, there's one thing leading Democrats and Republicans can agree on: They want Leon Panetta, not James Clapper, to be named the next director of national intelligence.
Their argument is twofold. Panetta, the current CIA director, will have the clout and political connections to lead the intelligence community in a way Dennis Blair, who was very publicly fired last week, never could. Congress is working on strengthening the powers of the ODNI, but only someone with Panetta's resume and savvy can make it work the way it was intended, both leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which will have to approve President Obama's nominee, said Tuesday.
"I have concerns about Clapper as a choice," committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, told The Cable in an interview, saying that the widely expected nomination of Clapper, who now is under secretary of defense for intelligence, would give the military too much control of the intelligence community. "The best thing for intelligence is to have a civilian in charge. The elbows are less sharp."
She said she would support Panetta, a former White House chief of staff and California congressman, for the post. Panetta's success in several battles with Blair for control of intelligence assets is said to be one big contributor to Blair's departure.
"I think he would be a good candidate because he understands how the universe functions and what points to press and how to press them to get something done," said Feinstein. "These are powerful agencies and if they line up against you, it's a problem."
Separately and independently, the committee's ranking Republican Kit Bond, R-MO, also criticized the possible selection of Clapper and volunteered Panetta as his preferred choice.
"I think Panetta is the only one who has the clout to make it work," Bond told The Cable in an interview. "You've got to have the political clout because the DNI does not have the statutory authority and he obviously doesn't have the support of the White House. So unless you've got somebody who's got the clout, he's not going to be able to do the job."
"Clapper has had a long career of service," Bond acknowledged, but added, "I have reservations about him in that job."
The Senate-passed bill that established the ODNI originally gave the DNI much more authority than the House version, and elements the House version that became law are now being used to neuter the DNI, Feinstein said. She pledged to try to change the law to further empower Blair's successor.
She also threw out two other names for the DNI position that she viewed favorably: former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin and FBI Director Robert Mueller.