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Obama picks Panetta as CIA chief

US President-elect Barack Obama has picked former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta to head the CIA.

world Updated: Jan 06, 2009 20:32 IST

US President-elect Barack Obama has picked former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta to head the CIA, a move that immediately sparked criticism in the political circles with questions being raised over his lack of experience in intelligence gathering.

While Panetta, 70, an eight-term Congressman, is being chosen for the job in the top US external spy agency, Admiral Dennis Blair, who formerly headed the US Navy's Pacific Command, is being tapped as director of national intelligence, Democratic officials were quoted by US media as saying.

Panetta, who was chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, has had a long political career and is known as a strong manager with solid organisational skills. But he has little hands-on experience in intelligence-gathering.

California Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein, who will be the new chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she had not been told in advance of Panetta's selection.

"My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time," she was quoted as saying by the CNN.

Republican Senator Kit Bond, a ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, also questioned Panetta's lack of intelligence experience, as did outgoing committee chairman Senator Jay Rockefeller, Democrat from West Virginia.

Blair, 61, too comes from outside the intelligence community, but was posted in CIA for about a year. He retired from the Navy in 2002. He was CIA's first associate director of military support and served on National Security Council.

Though both the men are short on direct intelligence- gathering experience, their selection is being seen as Obama team's effort to bring in fresh blood, especially in the CIA which has often found itself at the centre of controversy over harsh interrogation methods and other techniques used in the war on terror.