Panetta, Blair complete national security team

Four days after rumors began swirling about Barack Obama's surprise pick of Leon Panetta for CIA director, the buzz has become official.

At a press conference on Friday morning Obama announced the nominations of Panetta, retired Adm. Dennis Blair for National Intelligence director and former CIA official John Brennan -- who withdrew from consideration for CIA director in November after opposition from liberal bloggers -- as White House homeland security adviser and deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism.

Some Bush administration officials will remain to work with the incoming intelligence team. Current DNI Mike McConnell will offer counsel on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, and Michael Leiter will continue as head of the United States National Counterterrorism Center.

Panetta has served as a congressman from California, Office of Management and Budget director, and White House chief of staff to President Clinton, but he has no direct intelligence experience. The unexpected pick has already triggered criticism both in Congress and the media, and will likely generate tough questioning at Panetta's confirmation hearing.

Obama wasted no time pre-emptively defending the pick. After listing Blair's credentials, the president-elect said Blair's experience "will be exceptionally complemented" by Panetta. "Let me be clear," Obama stressed. "In Leon Panetta, the agency will have a director who has my complete trust and substantial clout."

Panetta also received an unequivocal seal of approval from Blair in his remarks. "I couldn't have asked for a better leader for the CIA," Blair said, as he turned to Panetta. "With your background and perspective, the agency is in superb hands."

Panetta, who took to the podium after Blair, stressed the need for a strong intelligence team. "I commit to consulting closely with my former colleagues and the Congress to form the kind of partnership we need to win the war on terror," he said.

Check out the blog Lost in Transition, a joint effort of Government Executive and National Journal.

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