Leon Edward Panetta (born June 28, 1938) is an American politician, lawyer and professor. He served in the Barack Obama administration as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2009 to 2011 and as Secretary of Defense from 2011 to 2013. An Italian-American Democrat, Panetta was a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1977 to 1993, served as Director of the Office of Management and Budget from 1993 to 1994 and as President Bill Clinton‘s Chief of Staff from 1994 to 1997. He is the founder of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, served as Distinguished Scholar to Chancellor Charles B. Reed of the California State University System and professor of public policy at Santa Clara University.
In January 2009, President-elect Obama nominated Panetta for the post of CIA Director. Panetta was confirmed by the full Senate in February 2009. As director of the CIA, Panetta oversaw the U.S. military operation that led to Osama bin Laden‘s death.
On April 28, 2011, Obama announced the nomination of Panetta as Defense Secretary when Robert Gates retired. In June the Senate confirmed Panetta unanimously as Secretary of Defense. He assumed the office on July 1. David Petraeus took over as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency on September 6.
Early life, education, and military service
Leon Panetta was born in Monterey, California, the son of Carmelina Maria and Carmelo Frank Panetta, who owned a restaurant in Monterey. They were Italian immigrants from Siderno in Calabria, a center of the Mafia-type criminal organization ‘Ndrangheta. He was raised in the Monterey area, and attended Catholic schools San Carlos Grammar School and Carmel Mission School. He continued his education at Monterey High School, a public school where he became involved in student politics, and was a JSA member. As a junior, he was Vice President of the Student Body, and became President of the Student Body as a senior.
In 1956, he entered Santa Clara University, and in 1960 he graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. He also received a Juris Doctor in 1963 from the Santa Clara University School of Law. In 1964, he joined the United States Army as a Second Lieutenant, where he served as an officer in Army Military Intelligence. There he received the Army Commendation Medal, and was discharged in 1966 as a First Lieutenant.
Early political career
Panetta started in politics in 1966 as a legislative assistant to Republican Senator Thomas Kuchel, the United States Senate Minority Whip from California, whom Panetta has called “a tremendous role model”.
In 1969 he became the assistant to Robert H. Finch, Secretary of the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare under the Nixon administration. Soon thereafter he was appointed Director of the Office for Civil Rights.
Panetta chose to enforce civil rights and equal education laws. Secretary Robert Finch and Assistant Secretary John Veneman refused to fire Panetta, threatening to resign if forced to do so. A few weeks later in 1970, Panetta resigned and left Washington to work as Executive Assistant for John Lindsay, the then-Republican Mayor of New York City (Lindsay would switch parties the following year.) He wrote about this experience in his 1971 book Bring Us Together.
He moved back to Monterey to practice law at Panetta, Thompson & Panetta from 1971 through to 1976.
Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Though elected to a ninth term, he left the House in 1993 after President Bill Clinton selected him to be Director of the United States Office of Management and Budget. He is credited with developing the budget package that would eventually result in the balanced budget of 1998.
White House Chief of Staff
In 1994, President Clinton asked Panetta what was wrong with his administration and was told about the lack of order in the White House. Clinton named Panetta as his new Chief of Staff, replacing Mack McLarty. According to author Nigel Hamilton, “Panetta replaced McLarty for the rest of Clinton’s first term—and the rest is history. To be a great leader, a modern president must have a great chief of staff—and in Leon Panetta, Clinton got the enforcer he deserved.” On July 17, 1994, he was appointed White House Chief of Staff by Clinton, a position he held until January 20, 1997. He was an important negotiator of the 1996 budget, which was another important step towards balancing the budget.
Director of the CIA
Then-President-elect Barack Obama nominated him to the post of Director of the Central Intelligence Agency on January 5, 2009.
After his selection, journalists and politicians raised concerns about his lack of intelligence experience, aside from his two-year service as a military intelligence officer.
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius said that Panetta did have tangential exposure to intelligence operations as Director of the OMB and as Chief of Staff for President Clinton, where he “sat in on the daily intelligence briefings as chief of staff, and he reviewed the nation’s most secret intelligence-collection and covert-action programs in his previous post as director of the Office of Management and Budget”. California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, wasn’t happy with the Leon Panetta selection:
“I was not informed about the selection of Leon Panetta to be the CIA Director. I know nothing about this, other than what I’ve read. My position has consistently been that I believe the Agency is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time.”
Former CIA officer Ishmael Jones stated, that Panetta was a wise choice because of his close personal connection to the President and lack of exposure to the CIA bureaucracy.
On February 12, 2009, Panetta was confirmed in the full Senate by voice vote.