CIA's Hayden Praises Obama, Panetta

He didn't get to stay on as director of the CIA, but Mike Hayden doesn't seem mad.

By + More

By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers.

He wanted to stay on, that's pretty clear, but when President-elect Barack Obama signaled that he wanted a change at the CIA, outgoing Director Mike Hayden didn't stomp his feet in frustration. He did the professional thing: He issued an internal memo praising Obama and his pick to run the CIA, former Rep. Leon Panetta. In the memo he said: "President-elect Obama has chosen Leon Panetta to succeed me here at the agency. With a powerful record of leadership in two branches of government, he has a well-deserved reputation for insight, wisdom, and decency," wrote Hayden. "If confirmed by the Senate, he will learn from you about the CIA as it is now, starting with the decisive contributions you make each day to the strength and security of our country."

It has been clear for weeks that Hayden wanted to stay on but that Obama was going in a different direction. Panetta represented that major shift, since he has no intelligence experience but is considered a strong manager. His pick, officially announced today, has come under fire from Senate Democrats who believe the top spy slot should be someone with intelligence experience. Hayden said that Obama has asked him to stay on through the confirmation process. Hayden added that he and deputy Steve Kappes have already met with Panetta. "We came away deeply impressed with his candor and clear commitment to the welfare of the men and women of CIA. It was apparent to us that he is eager to immerse himself in the details of intelligence and espionage." As in past all-staff messages, he also lauded the CIA team and said that he is not sure just what he plans to do after Langley. "I have been privileged to see you, with superior knowledge and exceptional valor, defend the American people in accord with their laws and values. There will be opportunities in the days ahead for Jeanine and me to express our appreciation to you. We have been honored to be part of CIA," he ended.

Here is Hayden's memo in full:

Message from the Director: Transition at CIA

In statements before and after the election, I made it clear that I serve at the pleasure of the President. Those were not empty words.  Every Chief Executive has the right to name his own team. Today, the incoming administration will formally announce its nominees for CIA Director and Director of National Intelligence.

President-elect Obama has chosen Leon Panetta to succeed me here at the Agency. With a powerful record of leadership in two branches of government, he has a well-deserved reputation for insight, wisdom, and decency. If confirmed by the Senate, he will learn from you about the CIA as it is now, starting with the decisive contributions you make each day to the strength and security of our country.

Deputy Director Steve Kappes and I have met with Mr. Panetta, and we came away deeply impressed with his candor and clear commitment to the welfare of the men and women of CIA. It was apparent to us that he is eager to immerse himself in the details of intelligence and espionage.

To facilitate a smooth transition, the President-elect has asked me to stay on until the confirmation process for a new Director is complete, and I have agreed. We have not been able to talk about these moves until now as they were not official. But CIA has worked closely with the Obama team. The discussions throughout have been positive and productive.

I came to this Agency in May 2006 with very high expectations. You exceeded them. You have kept a clear focus on the mission that drew all of us here. In Steve and the rest of the CIA leadership, I have had colleagues devoted to creating conditions for your success. There have been many triumphs that I have been proud to convey to the President and, where possible, to the public at large.

That starts with a string of victories over al-Qa'ida, a deadly, adaptive foe. From Asia to the Middle East, CIA has also been at the forefront in counterproliferation. Our analytic support to American fighting forces in Iraq helped open the way to the tribal engagement that proved to be a turning point in the war. There are plenty of others as well, which have changed the world for the better from behind the scenes. In short, no matter what the operational, technical, or analytic question, the answer typically includes CIA.

That is testament to your skill and courage, and it is something of which all of us can be proud. To be sure, there is more to be done. We continue to welcome and train large numbers of new officers. The talent and experience they bring enrich CIA, offering a diversity of perspectives and a uniform commitment to service.  We also continue to shift our weight in the field.  Analytically, that means placing even more experts overseas. Operationally, it means an even greater use of nontraditional collection platforms.

This is an organization on a strong path forward. Even as we meet the immediate demands of an unprecedented operational and analytic tempo, we are, through our people and infrastructure, investing for the future. CIA is a remarkable agency. We are America's espionage service. Our analysts do their work free of departmental influence. Our technical effort is second to none in creativity, flexibility, and delivering solutions. Our support personnel give us agility across the globe. And, when our government needs the advantage that covert action provides, it comes here.

By virtue of all those things—expertise, function, and history—CIA is central to American intelligence. It is a quiet, priceless servant of the United States. I have been privileged to see you, with superior knowledge and exceptional valor, defend the American people in accord with their laws and values. There will be opportunities in the days ahead for Jeanine and me to express our appreciation to you. We have been honored to be part of CIA.

Mike Hayden