Who knew Leon Panetta was really James Bond? The 70-year-old former congressman is considered a very nice guy in the political world, a world that is anything but nice. But now President-elect Obama has tapped Panetta to be a tough-guy spy, the head of the CIA.
The choice is perplexing. Panetta is very smart but has absolutely no intelligence experience unless you count his days as Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff. Some old hands inside the CIA are reportedly aghast at the choice. Former CIA guy Michael Scheuer, who headed the agency's bin Laden unit, put it succinctly: "I think they pulled his name out of a hat."
Besides his lack of experience, Panetta opposes many of the CIA's anti-terror measures. He's against any kind of coerced interrogation, wants the FISA overseas wiretap law repealed, and would completely disband the rendition program whereby the CIA sends captured terror suspects to be held and interrogated in other countries.
Without those tools, which former CIA Chief George Tenet and others say have been very effective in uncovering terror plots, the agency's ability to disrupt potential attacks would be gravely damaged. In fact, it was just February when 68 senators, some of them Democrats, voted the FISA wiretap strategy into law. For the record, Obama declined to vote on the issue.
But now Obama can't sit these things out. He must decide how to wage the war on terror, and by selecting Panetta as his point man, he's taking a huge gamble. If terrorists again attack the United States, Obama's soft intelligence-gathering approach would also come under attack. Simply put: A successful terror mission could bring President Obama down.
So why is Obama putting himself in this position? The media have convinced many people that the Bush administration degenerated into a bunch of criminal torturers, people who persecuted innocent Muslims worldwide. Now the committed-left media are demanding that Obama reject any experienced intelligence people who have supported President George W. Bush's terror initiatives. That's why Leon Panetta was chosen, to appease the left-wing zealots.
It seems to me that common sense, not ideology, is vital in preventing terrorists from killing us. Could Panetta learn on the job to run the CIA? Certainly. Should he be in charge when we are fighting two wars and terrorist bombs are going off all over the world? No way.
As for tapping calls to suspected terrorists overseas, come on. Judges have to see the data after the fact, and federal law still applies to any abuse. A private detective named Anthony Pellicano just got a harsh prison sentence for violating the wiretap law.
It's the same thing with coerced interrogation. The president should have the power to order it when lives are in imminent danger from a terror threat. However, Panetta recently told a newspaper that all interrogations should abide by the Army Field Manual, which prohibits making any captured person "uncomfortable."
Well, that kind of restriction should make you uncomfortable because in the war on terror, a lack of quick intelligence could make you dead.
Veteran TV news anchor and author Bill O'Reilly is a host on Fox News. His "Radio Factor" can be heard from 1 to 3 p.m. weekdays on NewsTalk 1300 WIMO-AM.