Panetta

Panetta: Greatest U.S. threat is 'inability to deal with budget'

2014-04-24T19:35:00Z 2014-04-24T19:35:56Z Panetta: Greatest U.S. threat is 'inability to deal with budget'By ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian missoulian.com

The power to hunt down a terrorist like Osama bin Laden may not be enough to protect the United States from the folly of its own spending problems, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told a Missoula audience Thursday.

“Our most dangerous national security issue is our inability to deal with the budget,” said the man who’s also directed the Central Intelligence Agency and Office of Management and Budget, and chaired the U.S. House Budget Committee. “We need tax reform and a budget deal that tells us where the U.S. is going. If we cannot fix this, we will not be a strong nation in the future. We will be a nation in decline.”

Panetta, who gave the University of Montana’s annual Jones-Tamm Judicial Lecture, was responding to a question by Washington, D.C., attorney Robert Bennett, who had asked what the U.S. military might look like in the next 10 to 15 years.

Panetta said he sees great promise in fielding a small, agile, high-tech force that can protect America’s place in the world. But he said uncertainty over what kind of budget will be available year-to-year makes it impossible to build strategic plans.

“We have special forces that can take on any enemy in the world,” Panetta said. “We can operate in space and with cyber and unmanned systems. But it won’t be there if we don’t deal with the budget issue.”

Panetta was the 12th in a line of major American figures to present the Jones-Tamm Lecture. Previous speakers include five members of the Supreme Court, Attorney General Eric Holder, and former FBI Director Louis Freeh. Unlike previous lectures, Panetta and Bennett held a discussion on the stage of the Dennison Theatre, rather than have the speaker take questions from the audience.

Panetta said the polarization of both political parties prevents Congress from forming the compromises on taxes and entitlements that past governments could accomplish.

“Both parties avoid taking the risks necessary to make a deal,” Panetta said. “It used to be that governing was good politics – getting things done. I’m not so sure they think that’s good politics anymore. They think confrontation and conflict is good politics.”

***

Life was different on the administration side, especially when Panetta led the CIA from 2009 to 2011.

“Nothing was more interesting than being CIA director,” he said. “You’ve got some interesting tools to work with.”

The CIA is a “very self-contained operation,” Panetta said, with people who run missions, build technology and command the support of the regular military for actions in addition to analyzing intelligence.

“I don’t have a large bureaucracy to deal with,” Panetta said. “The president tells me what to do and I can get it done.”

Bennett inquired about the CIA’s use of torture in some of those activities.

“Do you believe enhanced interrogation techniques are consistent with American values?” Bennett asked. “Do they work?”

Panetta said some enhanced interrogation techniques “come very close to the line of what’s torture and what’s not torture.” But he added President Barack Obama told the CIA “we’re not going to use those methods anymore,” and he oversaw the closure of some facilities where they were used.

“Intelligence was gathered by those methods that helped piece together the identities of couriers that led to bin Laden,” Panetta said. “I don’t know if that could have been reached by other methods.”

The United States had been hunting Osama bin Laden for 10 years since the al-Qaida leader claimed responsibility for flying passenger jets into New York City’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001.

Panetta said one of his first actions on taking the CIA directorship was to refocus the hunt for the terrorist.

Bin Laden was using human couriers to pass messages to his followers. Tracking those couriers helped the CIA locate the fortified compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he was hiding. But up until the SEAL team attacked on May 2, 2011, Panetta only had satellite images of an unidentified man pacing a courtyard like a prisoner and counts of laundry on a drying line that matched the size of the terrorist’s family group.

Panetta said he never had a certain identification of the man, but he believed the mounting intelligence pointed to bin Laden. Worried that word of the CIA’s interest in the compound and its occupant might leak, he argued in favor of striking.

“We could have blown the hell out of the place with a B-2 (bomber), but that amount of weaponry would have leveled three or four villages nearby – not good,” he said. “Sending SEAL commandos 150 miles into Pakistan in the middle of a military complex – most of the National Security Council said that was too risky.”

But SEAL teams had been doing similar kinds of raids in Afghanistan “eight or nine times a night,” Panetta said, and he had tremendous confidence they could do the job. When one of their helicopters crashed in the compound, the mission commander told him backup was already underway.

“It amazes me how capable they were,” Panetta said. “It took almost 10 minutes to confirm we had killed bin Laden. Those were the longest minutes of my life. But nobody attacks this country and gets away with it. It was important to send that message.”

***

Bennett observed the country has had different reactions to the government’s use of torture methods like waterboarding and targeted killing by unmanned drones. Panetta said the U.S. had to make some hard choices in the wake of 9/11.

“We were dealing with a pretty vicious enemy who attacked this country,” he said of al-Qaida. “We didn’t know if there was an atomic weapon placed in Washington, D.C. We didn’t know what the next attack might look like. We had to do a better job protecting the country.”

Panetta said the U.S. could have sent F-16 jets to bomb al-Qaida-controlled areas of Pakistan, but that would kill too many civilians. Sending an invading force into a country where we weren’t at war would cause even more collateral damage. Drone strikes gave the U.S. the best tool to attack terrorist members and leadership wherever they were hiding with the least amount of risk to noncombatants, he said.

“I don’t believe you have to choose between our security and our freedom,” Panetta said. “The real question is how do we protect the country and do it in line with the Constitution?”

The United States now faces its greatest international threats in the Pacific and the Middle East, Panetta said. With North Korea threatening to develop ballistic missiles to deliver its nuclear bombs and China flouting international law on territorial boundaries, he argued it’s increasingly important for us to remain a “Pacific power” ready to confront challenges.

At the same time, Panetta said America must stay involved with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the rest of the Middle East unrest.

“I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time, for God’s sake,” Panetta said. “What worries me more is the growing sense of the U.S. withdrawing from the world. We’ve had 10 years of war – I understand that. But the U.S. has to maintain world leadership. No other country in the world can play the role the U.S. does.”

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(19) Comments

  1. tarkio
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    tarkio - April 26, 2014 7:09 pm
    The national debt is our number one national security issue! Our government, those who we elected to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States have failed this country. And most of us have no ideal the seriousness of our financial situation.
    Take a hard look at conflicts around the world, we no longer have the ability to fully protect our interest and the interest of our allies!

    Why is it we owe a communist country 17 trillion dollars? Who really are the defeated people?
  2. AL KIPF
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    AL KIPF - April 26, 2014 11:10 am
    jacksommersby88 - 16 hours ago
    "a Republican complaining"
    "Reagan and both Bushes"
    "Clinton shrunk"
    "war-criminal W."

    Good job jack, they sure have you brainwashed into the left/right dialectic don't they.
  3. Miss Perfect
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    Miss Perfect - April 25, 2014 9:41 pm
    Osama Bin Laden? You all think that was a big deal? No.....it was a sick joke! Our troops had "Eyes on target" in at least three different instances that I am aware of .....this was in 2001 and 2002. Dispatching Bin Laden was no challenge.....our fighting men had him cornered at Bora Bora and could have wiped all the goat lovers off the map. Instead, our troops were told to stand down and let Pakistan catch him at the border (high in the mountains). Apparently they did!

    So.....why wasn't Bin Laden dispatched? Answer: Same reason we "Needed" WMD's........there must be a reason to spend trillions on war goods in the defense industry. That's right.....G. Bush was a sell out, a liar and war monger. Once democrats and independents realized they were duped they were furious. This is why we have a "Puppet" regime in place now. And this is why we have a jar head, rubber stamping democrat in the senate. All Tester had to say is "I am not Conrad Burns).

    So now we have these absurd progressives destroying our government and robbing our treasure.........they cloak themselves as democrats, but any sensible person knows democrats are nigh extinct.
  4. jacksommersby88
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    jacksommersby88 - April 25, 2014 6:57 pm
    I sure hope Panetta isn't a Republican complaining about budget deficits being that Reagan and both Bushes grew government and left office with a record deficit, whereas Clinton shrunk government and left war-criminal W. with a considerable surplus!
  5. Chuck Feney
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    Chuck Feney - April 25, 2014 4:11 pm
    "What difference does it make?"
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4B7dZReimPI
  6. js350454
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    js350454 - April 25, 2014 3:21 pm
    Benghazi, really? I am so sick of it and so are the rest of the sane among us..... Where was President Bush the morning when America was attacked on its own soil? Where was Cheney that morning? Where was Rumsfeld? Who gave the orders for our forces to stand down after rock-solid intelligence was given to the administration about an eminent attack? Who gave the orders to violate our Constitution by enacting indefinite detention and torture?

    Which administration turned a blind eye to Wall Street's shenanigans that ruined our economy? Where were the self-proclaimed fiscal patriots we call the Tea party when President Bush lied us into invading a sovereign country and ruining countless lives. Where were the fiscally conservative republicans when President Bush exploded our national debt - after inheriting a surplus!?

    There were 13 (THIRTEEN) different "Behngazi's" under Bush's watch....Where was your outrage then?! Huh?

    You demonstrate an inability to have introspection!!!
  7. Buzz Feedback
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    Buzz Feedback - April 25, 2014 2:50 pm
    I take it Lanny Davis wasn't available.
  8. Miss Perfect
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    Miss Perfect - April 25, 2014 12:24 pm
    Checking over my notes Sukey......Hmmmm.....how many countries did Russia invade under the GOP watch? Right.....Zero.

    Do not presume I approve of EITHER BUSH.....they are both morons and war mongers. I was the lone voice in my conservative neighborhood that decried the phony Bush wars. The WMD story ranks right up there with Obama's "You can keep your insurance" story. However, Bush did have the blessing of the duped democrats on his Iraq adventure, and he did take it to congress (regretfully, it was contolled by the GOP).

    Benghazi may be an covert arms operation........this has nothing to do with the political cover up and lies. One GREAT thing did come of it, it has cost Hillary the 2016 presidency, I doubt she will even make it through the primary now.

    Like ALL democrats.......you attempt to excuse Obama, Hillary,Biden, Durbin, Schumer and the rest of the liars because......you are a democrat.

    In case you didn't get the memo.......there is NO DEMOCRAT party anymore........it has been usurped by progressives.
  9. Leadfoot
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    Leadfoot - April 25, 2014 11:20 am
    Miss Perfect has it spot-on. Perfect. "No one kills Americans & gets away with it." Well, the perps of BENGHAZI are doing TV interviews, so Mr sukey, get your facts straight. NOTHING that H. Obama did was done with ANY equipment, strategy, or troupe organization that had not ALREADY been established by President Bush. NOTHING. Obama has continually tried to cut back the size & scope of intel gathering departments until UBL was delivered without one iota of help from Obama. Once found, Obama sat on the intel, not Panetta since he did only what the president told him to do, for over 9 months. The individuals & their info gathering networks established under Bush, were the ones who luckily gathered the intel about UBL's couriers that lead to his location in Abbottabad. For the low-information readers out there with low reading skills, there was even an excellent movie made that brought out all of the facts. Mr Panetta stated, after it's opening, that the movie was accurate with the facts. The Benghazi killers are still doing TV interviews. Putin is making H. Obama look like the unsure timid sissy, that he is, as a leader. How anyone can criticize Bush after a presidency like Obama's is dumbfounding. Even your name has juxtaposed a few vowels. My only hope is that the mayor was there to listen to Panetta discuss the downfall of every great nation: the inability to control the urge to spend far more than taxes taken in. In that, Engen has acquired Obama's singular greatness.
  10. WhiteHat
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    WhiteHat - April 25, 2014 10:53 am
    Benghazi, Benghazi................Where was the President that night? Where was Hillary that night? Who gave the order for rescue forces to stand down? The President, Hillary and Panetta should all have been impeached over Benghazi - and one could still be.
  11. Sukey
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    Sukey - April 25, 2014 10:48 am
    I haven't forgotten, thanks for reminding us all. They were American heroes.
  12. Sukey
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    Sukey - April 25, 2014 10:47 am
    Thats right, al-qaeda is "on the move", which is why its absurd to have troops on the ground when you can have drones in the air. So the "wars" in Afghanistan and Iraq are over, because George Bush Jr is back in Texas not in the White House. I'm not a "progressive" I'm a "pragmatist". Al-qaeda is "on the move", well they can move but they can't hide. Not with satellites and drones. But when China calls us on our debts, drones won't help. Which is why Leon Panetta is right, staggering debt, and America's sense of entitlement, is what is leading to our decline.
  13. bdr
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    bdr - April 25, 2014 10:26 am
    America is in decline due to plugging communism into capitalism, for 30 years thinking communism would disappear.
    America will fail soon much like Rome 455-474 (probably this election cycle in November).

    If were are to trade with other country's we have to have a level playing field (in respect to prices/workers rights ) before we can trade period. We may have to lose our nation before other respect us.
  14. jus wundrin
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    jus wundrin - April 25, 2014 9:00 am
    "Obama ended these ridiculous wars..."

    Did al-qaeda surrender, and lay down arms? Must have missed it. Last I heard is that they are growing, and on the move.....even in this country.

    "I believe history will show they were working on something covert that the government didn't want the rest of us to know about."

    Absolutely! No progressive official wants the average US citizen to know we were supplying arms to al-qaeda there, as we are in Syria.

    http://rt.com/news/154316-benghazi-attack-us-fault/

    ....but then al-qaeda's on the run!
  15. Sukey
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    Sukey - April 25, 2014 8:08 am
    Miss Perfect, get your head out of your frige, the seals didn't go into Afghanistan, they went into PAKISTAN, a nuclear-armed country. George Bush spent trillions in Afghanistan with boots on the ground looking in vain for Bin Laden. Obama sent in a team of navy seals and got him with the help of satellites. Obama ended these ridiculous wars that Bush Jr. started for no reason other than I believe he was trying to live up to the accomplishments of his Father (war hero, Ambassador, head of CIA, etc.). He wanted to be a "War Hero" like his daddy so he started a few, flew in on a jet and declared "Mission Accomplished". What a jerk. He failed,bankrupted the nation, destroyed lives, and history will judge him as the WORST President this nation ever had. George Bush Jr is his Father's worst failure.

    I've watched Mr. Panetta's career for over 30 years. He's a good man I greatly admire. And, he's correct, the biggest threat to American security is the deficit. What are you doing to dig America out of debt? If you're taking, not making, you're a threat to this nation. The Greatest Generation knew how to buckle down, work, live with rations, and win World War II. Now, we don't ask "What we can do for our country", we ask, "What can our country can do for us", with an endless funnel of taxes for frivolous things and nonsense "non-profits".

    As far as Benghazi, I believe history will show they were working on something covert that the government didn't want the rest of us to know about. Miss Perfect, where are your tears for hundreds of thousands of American's killed/injured in the Bush-contrived wars?
  16. walter12
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    walter12 - April 25, 2014 7:13 am
    Panetta was a stooge for Obama. He is silent on the Benghazi travesty and protecting the Hillary woman. He can be trusted as much as the evil Holder.
  17. sew2
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    sew2 - April 25, 2014 6:35 am
    And you just cemented his point about partisan hack politics. There's a lot of hate spewing from your computer Miss Perfect. It speaks volumes because I can't stand this administration.
  18. Miss Perfect
    Report Abuse
    Miss Perfect - April 25, 2014 2:08 am
    Sending an invading force into a country where we weren’t at war would cause even more collateral damage???? HUH? Hey Peon......we have never been at war with afghanistan...we had no problem stompng all over their sovereign rights. And tell me.......how is it any different than sending in drones? Duplicity........demorats are masters of this universe.

    Now let's talk about Benghazi .....Mr. Leon, the democrat garbage man. YOU said there were NO resources near Benghazi......no way to render aid. You also said "We don't just send help without knowing exactly what we are getting in to???? Huh? You had live camera feed from the consulate........you had CIA intel on the ground that confirmed the attack, and of course....it was 9/11. So......you sir, are a liar and a traitor. I hope to see you tried for high crimes .......you left those people there to die.
  19. burntToastAndCoffee
    Report Abuse
    burntToastAndCoffee - April 24, 2014 8:00 pm
    "The United States had been hunting Osama bin Laden for 10 years since the al-Qaida leader claimed responsibility for flying passenger jets into New York City’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001."

    UA flight 93, Shanksville PA please ... Lets Roll
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