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Leon Panetta Fast Facts

CNN Editorial Research

Here’s a look at the life of former CIA Director and former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.


Birth date: June 28, 1938

Birth place: Monterey, California

Birth name: Leon Edward Panetta

Father: Carmelo Panetta, restaurant owner and farmer

Mother: Carmelina (Prochilo) Panetta, restaurant owner

Marriage: Sylvia Marie (Varni) Panetta (1962-present)

Children: Christopher, Carmelo and James

Education: University of Santa Clara, B.A., 1960; University of Santa Clara, J.D., 1963

Military service: US Army, 1964-1966, First Lieutenant

Religion: Roman Catholic

Other Facts

His parents were Italian immigrants who owned a walnut farm in the Carmel Valley of California.

Graduated magna cum laude in political science.

Received the Army Commendation Medal.

Was forced to resign as the head of the US Office for Civil Rights when he tried to speed up the pace of school desegregation, against the wishes of the administration of President Richard Nixon.


1966-1969 – Legislative aide to Republican Senator Thomas Kuchel of California.

1969 – Special assistant to the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Nixon.

March 1969-February 1970 – Head of the US Office for Civil Rights.

1971Switches parties from Republican to Democrat.

1971Returns to California to practice law.

1976 – Elected to the House of Representatives, representing the area around Monterey, California. Is reelected eight times.

1979-1989 Serves on the House Committee on the Budget.

1989-1993Chairman of the House Committee on the Budget.

1991 – Votes against a resolution authorizing Operation Desert Storm.

January 21, 1993-October 1994 Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

July 17, 1994-January 20, 1997 – Chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.

1997-2009 and 2013-present – Co-director, and then chairman of The Panetta Institute for Public Policy.

1997 – Appointed presidential professor at Santa Clara University, teaching a course called Studies in Public Policy.

1997-2003 Serves on the Board of Directors of the New York Stock Exchange.

2000-2003Chairman of the Pew Oceans Commission.

2002 – Joins the National Review Board set up by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in the wake of priest sex abuse scandals.

2004 Co-chair of the California Council on Base Support and Retention, which was established after the Department of Defense announced it would be realigning and closing military bases across the country.

2005 – Serves as a member of the Migration Policy Institute’s Independent Task Force on Immigration and America’s Future addressing illegal immigration.

2006 – Member of the Iraq Study Group tasked with assessing the US effort in Iraq and making policy recommendations following their findings.

January 5, 2009 – Nominated by President-elect Barack Obama to be the new director of the CIA.

February 12, 2009 – Confirmed by the US Senate as the new director of the CIA.

February 13, 2009-June 30, 2011 – Director of the CIA.

April 28, 2011 – President Obama nominates Panetta to be the new secretary of defense to replace Robert Gates.

June 21, 2011 – Confirmed by the US Senate as the next secretary of defense.

July 1, 2011-February 26, 2013 – Twenty-third secretary of defense.

December 15, 2011 – Attends the handover ceremony in Baghdad, commemorating the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

January 24, 2013 – Announces the US military will end its longstanding policy of excluding women from combat and open front-line units to female service members.

October 7, 2014 – His memoir, “Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace” is published.

June 5, 2020 – Joins 88 other former defense officials in Washington Post open letter criticizing President Donald Trump’s threat to use the US active military to quell nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police.

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