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Obama Picks Panetta as CIA Director

President-elect Barack Obama is filling two key intelligence positions - Leon Panetta as CIA Director and Dennis Blair as director of national intelligence. Video by AP

"Whether it's Mr. Panetta or someone else, it's critical that the agency move in a new direction," Hoekstra said.

And John McLaughlin, the CIA's No. 2 official under former director George J. Tenet, said the Panetta selection was "a very good choice."

"What Leon Panetta lacks in direct intelligence experience, he more than makes up in sound judgment, broad governmental experience and savvy about how all the pieces fit together -- perhaps the most important qualities for a CIA director," McLaughlin said. "He also could establish an effective relationship with congressional overseers, a key part of the intelligence equation."

The issue of Panetta's experience will be much more important if Deputy CIA Director Stephen R. Kappes decides to leave or is pushed out. A longtime CIA operations officer with experience in the Middle East, Kappes has been instrumental -- along with Director Michael V. Hayden -- in rebuilding morale within the agency and particularly within the clandestine service.

Under the 2004 reorganization of the intelligence community, the CIA director also heads the National Clandestine Service, giving him authority over all human intelligence collection and operations abroad, including those carried out by the Defense Intelligence Agency, the individual military services and the FBI.

Part of the delay in naming the intelligence team has stemmed from Obama's need to feel comfortable with his choices and, at the same time, meet concerns among Democrats on Capitol Hill that those picked were not directly involved in harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, that were used against detainees, officials said.

Staff writers Walter Pincus and Dana Priest and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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