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Obama Rolls Out Blair, Panetta; Vows “No Exceptions” to US Values

gitmo orangeMore important than anything Dennis Blair and Leon Panetta said at their rollout this morning as intelligence chiefs — it’s a rollout, after all, so you’re not getting anything controversial — were two things President-elect Obama said that directly repudiate the intelligence regime of the previous administration. First, among the "tough lessons" of the last eight years is "to insist on assessments based solely on facts, and not to seek information to support any ideological agenda" and to receive thorough information, "even if it’s not always the information we want." (Do Obama’s intelligence picks still have the support of Doug Feith and Richard Perle now?)

Second, and more important from a human-rights perspective, was what he said about torture and interrogations: "We must adhere to our values diligently and with no exceptions." No exceptions. None of this ticking-bomb crap that doesn’t exist in the real world, none of these Jack Bauer distortions. Sullivan up, Krauthammer down.

Blair and Panetta reflected both of those statements in their own. Blair said he had been charged by Obama to give policymakers "timely accurate, relevant intelligence" and reflective of "different perspectives." He pledged, like Adm. Mike McConnell before him, to tell Obama "how well we know what we know, and what we don’t know." Some at CIA might be upset by Blair’s remark that CIA is "one of the key agencies in the intelligence community," instead of the key agency, but, you know, c’mon.

Panetta, predictably, publicly buttered up the two constituencies he needed to sweet-talk: the intelligence professionals who might think he’s a lightweight, and Congress. He lauded CIA’s "rich and proud history" and the bravery of its operatives, particularly those who serve "often undercover, and sometimes under fire." Hear that, National Clandestine Service? If not, he even called out John Brennan, whom several at CIA wanted to have the job that Panetta’s getting. And even if the Feinstein beef is squashed, Panetta looked forward to "consulting closely with my former partners in Congress."

Yeah, he’s got this job. Reps. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who agree on practically nothing, just put out a joint statement backing Panetta:

“We support President-Elect Barack Obama’s choice of Leon Panetta to serve as Director of the CIA. Mr. Panetta has a 40-year record in public service – notably as a member of Congress, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Chief of Staff under President Clinton, and recently as a member of the Iraq Study Group. A consumer of intelligence for years, he consistently has demonstrated an ability to lead in a bipartisan fashion and always see the big picture – attributes that would benefit the CIA and our nation.”

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman