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American Forces Press Service

Obama Announces Intelligence Director, CIA Chief Picks

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 9, 2009 – President-elect Barack Obama announced his choices for the nation’s new top intelligence official and CIA chief at a news conference held here today.

Retired Navy Adm. Dennis C. Blair, Obama told reporters, is his pick to become the new director of national intelligence, while Leon E. Panetta, former White House chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, is his nominee for CIA director.

“I am confident that Dennis Blair and Leon Panetta are the right leaders to advance the work of our intelligence community,” Obama said. “They are public servants with unquestioned integrity, broad experience, strong management skills, and the core pragmatism we need in dangerous times.”

The intelligence director oversees 16 intelligence agencies, including the CIA and intelligence components of the military services, and reports directly to the president. The position was established in December 2004 in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The CIA director heads America’s best-known clandestine intelligence-gathering organization. The CIA was established in 1947, essentially replacing the Office of Strategic Services that was created during World War II.

Blair’s impressive qualifications and wide experience suit him well to become the next intelligence director, Obama said. The former U.S. Pacific Command chief “has seen the diverse uses of intelligence from many different perspectives,” he said. Blair retired from the Navy in 2002.

Obama cited Blair “as someone who has handled intelligence as a sailor at sea, and as a strategic thinker in Washington.” As the intelligence director, the former four-star admiral “will have the expertise and authority to ensure that our 16 intelligence agencies act with unity of effort and purpose,” Obama said.

Turning to his pick for CIA director, Obama praised Panetta as “one of the finest public servants of our time.” Obama observed that Panetta, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, has “committed himself to his country since he put on the uniform of the U.S. Army.” Panetta served as an Army officer from 1964 to 1966.

With Panetta at its helm, the CIA “will have a director who has my complete trust and substantial clout,” Obama said.

Panetta, who also served as the director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton administration, “knows how to focus resources where they are needed, and he has a proven track record of building consensus and working on a bipartisan basis with Congress,” he said.

Obama also announced that CIA veteran John O. Brennan will be his homeland security advisor and deputy national security advisor for counterterrorism.

“The demands on the intelligence community are huge and growing,” Obama observed. “To have a successful national security strategy, I have made it clear that we will need to deploy and balance all elements of American power -- our military, diplomacy, homeland security, economic might and moral persuasion.

“Good intelligence work is necessary to support each of these endeavors,” Obama said.

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