Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta Jan. 7 endorsed President Barack Obama’s nominee to succeed him at the helm of the Pentagon.
Obama announced his nomination of Chuck Hagel as the next defense secretary at the White House today. The president also announced he has nominated John Brennan as the next CIA director.
If confirmed by the Senate, Hagel will replace Panetta, who confirmed today that he plans to retire. Brennan, if confirmed, will replace retired David H. Petraeus, who resigned as CIA director in November. Michael Morell, the agency’s deputy director, has been acting director since Petraeus stepped down.
“Let me express my deepest gratitude to the president for giving me the honor and the privilege of serving in your administration over these last four years as director of the CIA, and now as secretary of defense,” Panetta said after Obama’s announcement.
Panetta said he is proud of what he and the rest of the national security team accomplished during those years. He commends the president on today’s nominations, he said, and added that Brennan “will be a strong leader” for the CIA.
Hagel, Panetta said, is a patriot, a decorated combat veteran and a dedicated public servant.
“I believe his experience, his judgment [and] his deep understanding of the security issues facing this country make him the right choice to be secretary of defense,” the secretary said.
Panetta said he plans to retire to his walnut farm in California with his wife, Sylvia, their three children and their families, including six grandchildren. The secretary said he is deeply grateful to his family “for giving me the fullest measure of love and support during my many absences from home throughout my long career of public service.”
Panetta added he will leave Washington with a deep sense of pride in “what we have accomplished during these last four years.”
As both CIA director and as defense secretary, he said, “I have always believed that our fundamental mission is to keep America safe.”
America is safer and more secure today, Panetta said, because of the “outstanding dedication of our intelligence and military professionals.”
The secretary concluded his remarks by thanking the service members and civilians he has served with and led in the Defense Department.
“In particular, let me deeply thank the outstanding men and women in uniform … who put their lives on the line every day, on distant battlefields, for this country,” Panetta said. “Their sacrifices teach us that freedom is not free — a strong democracy depends on a strong defense. But you can also not have a strong and stable defense without a strong and stable democracy.”
Panetta noted the nation continues to face financial challenges and global security threats. “My hope for the future,” he added, “is that the sense of duty our service members and their families exhibit every day inspires the leaders of this nation to have the courage to do what is right: to achieve the American dream to give our children a better life, and to build a more secure future.”
Hagel, 66, is a former U.S. senator from Nebraska. He served as an Army sergeant in the Vietnam War, and earned two Purple Hearts as an infantry squad leader there. He later co-founded a cellular telephone company.
Hagel’s experience includes stints as deputy administrator for the Veterans Administration — now the Veterans Affairs Department — and as CEO and president of the USO. He served in the Senate from 1997 to 2009, where he was a member of the foreign relations and intelligence committees.
Hagel currently is a professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He also is chairman of the Atlantic Council and co-chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board.
Brennan, 57, is the deputy national security adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism. He spent 25 years at the CIA, during which he worked as a Near East and South Asia analyst, served as station chief in Saudi Arabia, and directed the National Counterterrorism Center.