President-elect Obama’s choice of Leon Panetta to head the Central Intelligence Agency may just be among the savviest he has made thus far.

... As a senator, Mr. Obama was in a good position to observe how difficult it was for Mr. Bush to control the CIA. His foreign policy was constantly attacked from within the agency. This occurred through leaks that exposed surveillance programs; unveiled secret reports about such hot spots as Iraq, Iran or North Korea; and internal policy battles such as the divisive flap over Valerie Plame’s role as a covert agent at the CIA (she wasn’t).

The impact of these leaks was to undermine public support for Mr. Bush’s aggressive foreign and defense policies, in part because the leaks were followed by widespread misreporting of the associated issues. Mr. Obama disagreed with a lot of Mr. Bush’s policies abroad and many of the actions used to implement them, but he cannot relish having his own administration’s policies undermined by leaks and agency infighting.

Mr. Panetta’s selection may be intended by Mr. Obama to place a reliable political ally at the head of the CIA — an advantage not held by Mr. Bush, who retained his predecessor’s CIA chief, George Tenet, and Mr. Tenet was followed by two other experienced agency hands. Mr. Panetta’s bureaucratic experience may help him avoid “capture” by the intelligence community’s professional bureaucracy. ...