7 jan. 2009

CIA pick unlikely to face Senate challenge


WASHINGTON - President-elect Barack Obama is defending his unexpected CIA nominee Leon Panetta, who faced a surge of skepticism in Congress on Tuesday but is not expected to draw serious opposition when his confirmation reaches the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Obama promised that his intelligence team — led by Panetta and retired Adm. Dennis Blair, the nominee for national intelligence director — will break with Bush administration practices that he said tarnished U.S. intelligence agencies and American foreign policy.

Word of Panetta's selection Monday caught key senators by surprise — notably California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, the incoming Intelligence Committee chairwoman.
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Career

Leon Panetta was born in Monterey, California, the son of Italian immigrants who owned a restaurant there. He was raised in the Monterey area, and attended Catholic schools St. 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. 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 Political Science. He also received a Juris Doctor in 1963 from the Santa Clara University Law School, and soon after began practicing law.

In 1964 he joined the United States Army as a Second Lieutenant. There he received the Army Commendation Medal, and was discharged in 1966 as a First Lieutenant.


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, even under alleged political pressure not to from then-president Nixon. Robert Mardian said of Panetta: "Doesn't he understand Nixon promised the Southern delegates he would stop enforcing the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts?" 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 Republican Mayor of New York City. He wrote about this experience in his 1971 book Bring Us Together: The Nixon Team and the Civil Rights Retreat.

He moved back to Monterey to practice law at Panetta, Thompson & Panetta from 1971 through to 1976.

Congressional work

Panetta switched to the Democratic Party in 1971, because he thought that the Republican Party was moving away from the political center, and it was working against Civil Rights legislation. In 1976, Panetta was elected to the U.S. Congress to represent California's 16th congressional district, unseating incumbent Republican Burt Talcott with 53% of the vote (the 17th district after the 1990 census), and was reelected for nine terms.

During his time in Congress, his work concentrated mostly on budget issues, civil rights, education, health, and environmental issues, particularly preventing oil drilling off the California coast. He wrote the Hunger Prevention Act (Public Law 100-435) of 1988 and the Fair Employment Practices Resolution. He was a major factor in establishing the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.


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