Where is Osama bin Laden?
When will al-Qaida next try to attack the United States, and where?
When will Iran have a nuclear weapon? How can it be deterred from getting one?
What will it take to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapon?
Leon Panetta, a chief of staff in the Clinton administration with deep experience in government but little on intelligence gathering or analysis, told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday that he has asked former CIA chiefs— notably former President George H.W. Bush — how to compensate for that shortcoming.
"They all told me to listen carefully to the professionals at the agency, but also to stay closely engaged with Congress," Panetta said in written testimony.
In choosing Panetta, Obama passed over current and former CIA officials with impressive credentials. The other candidates had either worked in intelligence during the Bush administration's development of policies on interrogation and torture or earlier, during the months leading up to Sept. 11, 2001.
Panetta expects to have expert help. He told the committee that the CIA's deputy director, Steven Kappes, would remain in that job.
Panetta was not expected to face major opposition in the Senate. If confirmed, he would assume control of the CIA just weeks after Obama made dramatic changes in the agency's interrogation and detention program, directing that secret prisons be closed and interrogations held to methods approved by the military.
Panetta is a strong supporter of Obama's rules. Last year in an article in Washington Monthly, he wrote: "Those who support torture may believe that we can abuse captives in certain select circumstances and still be true to our values. But that is a false compromise. We either believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or we don't. There is no middle ground."
Panetta promised the committee that he would brief the entire House and Senate intelligence committees as much as possible, rather than just its top members, known as the "gang of eight." He said the Bush administration abused that practice to keep Congress from exercising proper oversight.
"Keeping this committee 'fully and currently' informed is not an option. It is the law. It is our solemn obligation," he said.
Panetta, a former Office of Management and Budget director and Democratic congressman from California, would have to give up more than $1 million a year in income gleaned from seats on boards of directors, consulting and speeches to run the spy agency.
Panetta earned more than $800,000 in director's and consultant's fees and a $50,000 salary as a professor at Santa Clara University in California. He also netted $250,000 for 12 speeches last year, several of which earned him $28,000 apiece.
Among those hiring Panetta through a Washington-based speaker's bureau were two troubled financial companies, Merrill Lynch and Wachovia, that took federal aid during the upheavals on Wall Street. Both were bought out by other banks. He also spoke to the Carlyle Group, an investment firm with interests in defense, financial services, energy and infrastructure companies.