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Name: Panetta, Leon
Current Position: Former Secretary

Leon E. Panetta has been many things during his long career. Congressman. President’s right-hand man. Think tank founder. Professor. But none of his roles has ever taken him deep into the realm of intelligence work, which is why many inside and outside of Washington, DC, questioned his ability to take over the embattled Central Intelligence Agency. Nonetheless, he served as director of the CIA from February 13, 2009, until June 30, 2011. President Barack Obama then appointed him Secretary of Defense, a position he took over on July 1, 2011.

Born June 28, 1938, in Monterey, CA, Panetta was raised by his Italian immigrant parents, Carmelo and Carmelina, who owned a restaurant. In 1947 they purchased a walnut farm and moved their family there. Panetta attended two Catholic schools (St. Carlos Grammar School and Carmel Mission School) before attending a public high school (Monterey High School), where he became involved in student politics (student body vice president as a junior; president as a senior).
In 1956, Panetta enrolled in Santa Clara University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science, magna cum laude, in 1960. He remained at Santa Clara for law school, serving as an editor of the Law Review, and receiving his JD in 1963.
Following college, Panetta joined the US Army and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He attended Army Inteloigence School and was chief of operations and planning for intelligence at Ford Ord in California. He left the service as a first lieutenant in 1966.
Panetta began his political career as a Republican, taking a job in 1966 as a legislative assistant to US Senator Thomas H. Kuchel, a moderate Republican from California who was Senate Minority Whip. Three years later, Panetta moved to the Nixon administration, serving as a special assistant to Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Robert Finch, and then as director of the US Office for Civil Rights, where he was responsible for enforcement of equal education laws. There, he butted heads with Nixon officials who wanted to put the brakes on civil rights enforcement.
Having worn out his welcome in the administration, Panetta went to New York City in 1970 to serve as executive assistant to Republican Mayor John Lindsay, overseeing the city’s relations with the state and federal governments. The following year, he returned to California, and he began practicing law in the Monterey firm of Panetta, Thompson & Panetta. He also published his first book in 1971 (Bring Us Together: The Nixon Team and the Civil Rights Retreat) about his frustrating experience heading up the Office of Civil Rights. He also switched his party affiliation to Democrat in 1971.
Panetta practiced law until 1976, when he was first elected to Congress from the 16th (now 17th) district from California, covering Monterey, Salinas and parts of the central coast. As a member of the House until 1993, he was a vocal opponent of the Reagan administration’s support for the Contra rebels, and he voted against authorizing US military action during the Gulf War in 1991.
Among the legislation he carried, Panetta authored the Hunger Prevention Act of 1988; the Fair Employment Practices Resolution extending civil rights protections to House employees for the first time; several bills designed to protect the California coast, including creation of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary; and legislation that established Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement for hospice care for the terminally ill (PDF).
His committee assignments included serving as the chair of the House Committee on the Budget (1989-1993); the Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Domestic Marketing, Consumer Relations and Nutrition; the House Administration Committee’s Subcommittee on Personnel and Police; and the Select Committee on Hunger’s Task Force on Domestic Hunger. He also served as vice chairman of the Caucus of Vietnam Era Veterans in Congress and as a member of the President’s Commission on Foreign Language and International Studies.
Panetta left Congress in 1993 to become President Bill Clinton’s director of the Office of Management and Budget. A year later, Clinton chose Panetta to become his White House chief of staff after the president’s first choice, Thomas “Mack” McLarty, proved unable to provide the structure needed to keep the Clinton Oval Office on track. Panetta reportedly brought more structure and curtailed the long, meandering meetings Clinton tended to have, and limited access to the President so he could focus on key issues and not get distracted. Panetta was also credited with helping negotiate the 1996 budget compromise with Congressional Republican leaders.
Panetta left Washington in 1997 and returned to California, taking up residence on his parents’ family farm with his wife, Sylvia. He began formulating a run for California governor in November 1998, but ultimately never launched his bid for the Democratic nomination. Panetta faced numerous obstacles that included a better known Democrat (US Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who also chose not to run, ultimately) and wealthy airline executive, Al Checchi, who lost the primary to Gray Davis.
Having decided his days as a politician were over, Panetta set out to create a think tank on the newly-established campus of California State University, Monterey Bay (where the army base Fort Ord once stood). The Leon & Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy was created in 1997 as a nonpartisan, not-for-profit study center for the advancement of public policy. That same year, Panetta was appointed Presidential Professor at Santa Clara University, and he began a six-year term on the board of directors of the New York Stock Exchange. He was chairman of the NYSE’s Committee for Review and was co-chair of the Corporate Governance and Listing Standards Committee.
Panetta has served in numerous community and national public policy organizations throughout his career. In November 2004, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him co-chair of the Council on Base Support and Retention. Since 2005 he has served as a member of the Independent Task Force on Immigration and America’s Future, and in March 2006, he was chosen to serve on the Iraq Study Group.
In addition, Panetta has served on the National Review Board of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the board of the National Steinbeck Center, and the University of California Santa Cruz Foundation, and on the board of the Santa Clara University Law School Board of Visitors. Other affiliations include being a member of the board of trustees for Santa Clara University; the Fleishman-Hillard International Advisory Board; the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula; the Monterey Bay Aquarium; the National Board of Advisors of the Center for National Policy (chairman), the Pew Oceans Commission (chairman); Blue Shield of California); IDT Corporation; Zenith National Insurance; Connetics Corporation; the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation; Bread for the World; and Close Up.
Upon Panetta’s announcement as Obama’s pick for director of the CIA, some key Senate Democrats expressed concern about Panetta’s lack of intelligence experience. “My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time,” said Feinstein, who will oversee Panetta’s confirmation as chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence.
Those who came to Panetta’s defense included former Congressman Lee Hamilton (D-IN), who chaired foreign affairs and intelligence committees while serving in the House and later co-chaired the Iraq Study Group. Hamilton insisted that while Panetta wasn’t from the traditional world of intelligence, he dealt with the issue on a daily basis as Clinton’s chief of staff and as a member of the Iraq Study Group.
Panetta has been quoted as saying, “Torture is illegal, immoral, dangerous and counterproductive,” leading some intelligence experts to predict that the CIA will take a new direction in dealing with suspected terrorists, if Panetta is in charge.
Panetta and his wife, Sylvia, have been married since 1962. They have three sons and five grandchildren.
Leon Panetta (by Kate Pickert, Time)
Leon E. Panetta (New York Times)
American Reject Fear Tactics (by Leon Panetta, Monterey County Herald)
Q&A: Leon Panetta (by Hilary Howard, Northern California Golf Association)
Conversation with Leon Panetta (with Harry Kreisler, Institute of International Studies, University of California Berkeley)
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