Panetta has been a front-runner to succeed Robert M. Gates since Gates announced plans to step down after 4.5 years of service in the position throughout the Bush and Obama administrations.
“On behalf of the entire intelligence community, I want to congratulate Leon Panetta on his Senate confirmation to be the next secretary of defense,” James Clapper, director of national intelligence, said in a statement. “Most importantly, Leon has been a staunch advocate for the dedicated men and women of the CIA, ensuring they have the resources they need to perform their critical mission — protecting our homeland. I congratulate Leon and his family, and look forward to continuing our collaboration and close partnership.”
Panetta’s appointment comes at a critical time for the Obama administration — the president will address the nation 8 p.m. EDT, announcing that 30,000 “surge” troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of next year. In a rare show of unity, senators from both sides of the aisle spoke in favor of Panetta on the floor Tuesday, praising his role in the Abbottabad, Pakistan mission that killed Osama bin Laden.
Panetta is expected to assume his position early next month.