Gary Berntsen Thinks CIA Needs 'Leadership Not Management'

This is a rush transcript from "America's News HQ," January 6, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

JANE SKINNER, HOST: Our next guest spent more than 20 years in the CIA, serving as chief of station on three separate occasions. He led counter-terrorist deployments in several parts of the world. Also, the author of a new book — boy, is this timely — "Human Intelligence, Counterterrorism, and National Leadership: A Practical Guide," Gary Berntsen joins us now.

Gary, good to see you. I want to get some of the flip side, somebody who's very supportive. Tim Roemer, former congressman from Indiana and 9/11 commissioner, he said that he thought the Panetta choice was savvy and insightful by Barack Obama and said, "We need a strong manager, need a steady hand at the CIA." Does he not have a point?

Video: Watch Jane Skinner's interview

GARY BERNTSEN, FMR. CIA COVERT OFFICER : Actually, we need leadership, not management at CIA. That person who's going to be in charge of CIA is in charge of our fight, not just of our collection of intelligence, but our fight against terrorists globally, not just on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. We need a decision-maker who is decisive, who understands these issues, who doesn't have to start learning on day one.

I'm sure Mr. Panetta is a wonderful, kind man. He spent his career in government. But, you know, I wrote, the book that I wrote actually to talk about what we need, what are the qualities we need? And I thought that individuals like some foreign ambassadors, many foreign senior military officers that have daily — you know, on a daily basis have to deal with life-and-death issues, are better prepared to serve in this sort of capacity.

SKINNER: OK. So, the transit team has been tone-deaf on most of their appointments so far, their choices. What do you think is at work here?

BERNTSEN: Well, I think, clearly, that President-elect Obama, like many other Democratic presidents, is a bit afraid of the agency. You know, if you look at Jimmy Carter, you know, he had Stansfield Turner there who gutted the place. Bill Clinton used John Deutch to gut the place, to reduce clandestine collection.

What is, you know, President-elect Obama's intentions on this? What are Panetta's intentions? That's something, really, we need to understand. Are they going to focus on collection and analysis? Those are areas you have to really have work on.

Collection, the Ops part, though, requires, you know, a little bit of nerve. It requires the ability to sort of, you know, take risks. And, you know, someone who has worked in a bureaucracy may not be accustomed to the sorts of risks that are required.

SKINNER: But I assume during a confirmation hearing or any sort of hearing, he would be pressed on these questions. We heard from Dianne Feinstein today, the incoming intelligence chair saying, "I'd like to hear your answers, I can't wait to hear your answers."

BERNTSEN: During confirmation, he's going to have to answer questions about what he was doing in the Clinton administration when al Qaeda was conducting exponential growth. You know, understand something that the growth that al Qaeda conducted in the `90s was done, much of it was done while Panetta was the chief of staff of the White House.

So, let's see what he's sort — I'd be very interested to hear what he's going to have to say. I think he is a very interesting man. He's a very, very bright guy. And I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd be named vice president, but to run the agency? I'm not sure.

SKINNER: Gary Berntsen, author of "Human Intelligence, Counterterrorism, and National Leadership: A Practical Guide" — good to see you, Gary. Thank you for your thoughts.

BERNTSEN: A pleasure.

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