In the second installment of a series about the sprawling U.S. intelligence apparatus, the Post estimated that nearly one-third of the 854,000 Americans with top-secret security clearances are private contractors.
Panetta told the Post he agrees that is a problem.
"For too long, we've depended on contractors to do the operational work that ought to be done" by CIA employees, Panetta said.
Panetta also said he was concerned that corporations owe more responsibility to their shareholders than to their country, "and that does present an inherent conflict."
Gates agreed, telling the Post, "You want somebody who's really in it for a career because they're passionate about it and because they care about the country and not just because of the money."
Gates and Panetta were interviewed during the Post's two-year investigation into the mushrooming growth of U.S. intelligence and counterterror operations since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.