Obama Names Panetta, Blair To Intelligence Posts

Saying the two would carry out their duties "with no ideological agenda," President-elect Barack Obama announced Friday he had chosen former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta as his CIA director and retired Adm. Dennis Blair as his national intelligence director.

The president-elect, speaking at a news conference in Washington, said he had "complete trust" that Panetta and Blair could execute their duties.

"Particularly at a time when our national security is threatened, I feel compelled to answer the call to serve again," Panetta said, calling it "a time of great peril but also a time of great opportunity."

The choice of Panetta, a former congressman who served as chief of staff under President Clinton, had drawn some criticism over his lack of direct experience in intelligence work.

Blair, the former head of the U.S. Pacific Command, has been praised for his work to counter terrorism in southeast Asia after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He worked closely with foreign partners to target the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah, a group thought to be linked to al-Qaida, as well as the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines.

He could face questions about a conflict-of-interest investigation over the F-22 fighter jet that forced his resignation from a Pentagon think tank in 2006. Blair was a board member of two defense contractors whose work the think tank was reviewing.

He also has been criticized in some circles for the role he played 10 years ago in U.S. efforts to rein in the Indonesian military as it cracked down on civilians in East Timor. Some human rights groups have criticized him for encouraging the renewal of ties with the Indonesian army — a move Blair believed would give the U.S. more leverage.

Speaking at the news conference, Blair said his mission was "absolutely clear" — to provide the president timely, accurate intelligence.

He said the president-elect had made it known that what the administration wanted was "different perspectives" and debate.

Despite the criticism of Panetta, his chances of confirmation were looking more promising Friday. Once-skeptical Senate leaders, including Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), appeared to be softening their stance.

Feinstein and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the outgoing Democratic intelligence panel chairman from West Virginia, had initially championed Deputy CIA Director Steve Kappes, a popular and respected longtime officer, for the top job.

Answering questions after the announcement, Obama outlined some differences from the current administration's approach to national security.

"The United States does not torture," he said. "We will abide by the Geneva Conventions." Obama said that approach would "ultimately make us safer."

Obama also announced he had picked John Brennan, a key intelligence adviser during the presidential campaign, to oversee counterterrorism policy for the National Security Council.

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