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Obama taps California's Leon Panetta to lead CIA

WASHINGTON — Leon Panetta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and a former congressman from California, is President-elect Barack Obama's choice to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, Democratic sources said Monday.

Panetta, 70, a budget, civil rights and oceans expert with little international intelligence experience, was a surprise pick to lead the agency at a time when the U.S. is seeking high-level terrorism targets and the agency's interrogation tactics could face revamping. He directs a public policy institute at California State University, Monterey Bay, and helped advise Obama's transition team.

However, Panetta has some strengths. He's not connected to controversial post-Sept. 11, 2001, anti-terrorism practices. He's sufficiently detached from the agency to facilitate a shake-up, if Obama so desires. He's a former director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton administration, and has knowledge of the intelligence community's budgets. He had some experience with intelligence planning during his Army service at Fort Ord, Calif., in the 1960s.

Panetta was in the Iraq Study Group and has working relationships with Democrats and Republicans in Congress, where he served in the House of Representatives from 1977 to 1993.

His selection was confirmed by three Democratic sources with knowledge of the appointment. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Panetta's formal selection is likely to be rolled out along with an announcement of Dennis Blair, a retired admiral, as the director of national intelligence.

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