Leon Panetta is an intelligence outsider. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, some analysts say.
Though President-elect Barack Obama's nominee for CIA director has faced skepticism from some senators and intelligence insiders, he's not the first to come to Langley with a resume in politics.
George H.W. Bush faced similar criticism when President Gerald Ford tapped him to lead the embattled agency in 1975. Bush, a former congressman and chairman of the Republican National Committee, came to the CIA at a time when it was under pressure from congressional committees looking into covert activities.
But Bush was seen as an effective manager who lifted CIA morale. By the time he ran for president in 1980, some in the intelligence community were even volunteering in his campaign.
"For an outsider, [Bush] did very, very well," said Mark Lowenthal, a former CIA official who now teaches at Columbia University. "There's no hard and fast rule here."
Panetta, a former congressman who served as President Bill Clinton's chief of staff and also ran the White House budget office, could follow in Bush's footsteps. He could serve as a bridge between the secretive organization and the rest of Washington. But he will be coming into the CIA at a delicate time. Congress may call for an inquiry into the interrogation and counterterrorism practices of the past eight years, and federal investigators are still probing the destruction of tapes showing those interrogations. Counterterrorism efforts are complicated by emerging conflicts on several fronts, and officials are warning that the recent attacks in Mumbai could serve as a blueprint for other violent groups.
Lowenthal said Panetta's first challenge will be to win the trust of his staff.
"It is a profession. It has arcane language. It has things that you have to know, so it has a learning curve time," Lowenthal said.
"The CIA tends to treat outsiders ... like germs," he added. "Until they're confident in you, they're guarded."
He said Panetta will face a sink-or-swim period of uncertainty, but that his bureaucratic background is by no means disqualifying. If Panetta finds a way to ease tensions with Congress while standing by the staff of the CIA, he will win friends and allies in the agency, Lowenthal said. If not, "he loses the CIA."
John Deutch, who served as CIA director in the Clinton administration, said professionals in the agency should be happy with Panetta since he would have the ear of the president-elect as well as others in foreign policy like Hillary Clinton, Obama's pick for secretary of state. The CIA is just one of 16 intelligence agencies and has had directors, like R. James Woolsey under Clinton, who rarely had any face time with the president.
"If you're going for someone on the outside I would say someone like Leon Panetta has exactly the right background," he said. "It has the prospect of making the CIA effective and influential in policy making."
Deutch said there have been effective and ineffective CIA directors from both inside and outside the intelligence community. "It depends very much on the individual," he said.
Former CIA Director Porter Goss, a former congressman, clashed with then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and eventually stepped down in 2006.
Insider William Colby, though, also was said to have generated distrust from the Ford administration because of his openness about the agency with congressional investigators.
Richard Helms, who came from within the ranks of the CIA to lead the agency in the late '60s and early '70s, was highly regarded in the agency even though he was convicted of lying to Congress about CIA activities.
Obama on Friday defended Panetta as a critical link between the CIA and the Oval Office.
"Let me be clear. In Leon Panetta, the agency will have a director who has my complete trust and substantial clout," Obama said. "He will be a strong manager and a strong advocate for the CIA."
The current CIA director, Michael Hayden, issued a written statement praising Panetta, advising staff that their new boss will learn from them about the CIA infrastructure.
"With a powerful record of leadership in two branches of government, he has a well-deserved reputation for insight, wisdom, and decency," Hayden said.
He said he and Deputy Director Steve Kappes met with Panetta and came away "deeply impressed."
Kappes, though, is seen as a critical component in smoothing over the concerns of lawmakers and others initially skeptical and surprised at Obama's decision.
The incoming chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., reacted with disappointment after learning from the media, not the president-elect himself, that Obama had chosen Panetta. So did outgoing chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
Both those senators have backed off their critical comments, but they still want Kappes, their original choice for the job, to stay on as Panetta's No. 2.
Sources told FOX News it is still an "open question" whether Kappes, who is popular among career CIA staff and has been critical to rebuilding morale under Hayden, will stay on.
Lowenthal said Kappes would be a "good backup" for Panetta as he navigates the new bureaucratic terrain.
He noted that Obama limited his pool of potential candidates by originally passing over John Brennan for the job, because of criticism on liberal blogs about his alleged involvement in Bush administration interrogation practices. (Obama has since tapped Brennan to head counterterrorism on the National Security Council.) Obama was then forced to look outside the intelligence community.
Nancy Pfotenhauer, a former adviser to Republican presidential nominee John McCain, said the president-elect ended up with somebody "clearly not qualified" for the job.
"He's going to be essentially a COO. He's going to make the trains run on time. He doesn't know what questions to ask," she said.
But Democratic strategist Bob Beckel said Panetta's managerial skills will be indispensable.
"It requires a good manager. Somebody who knows how to play the bureaucracy," he said. "And nobody, but nobody, knows that better than Panetta."
FOXNews.com's Judson Berger and FOX News' Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.