News of the possible nomination was disclosed Tuesday by Democratic officials. President-elect Barack Obama and his transition office have not commented. The new intelligence team will be formally announced soon, insiders told The Washington Post.
Panetta, 70, who served as former President Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff and Office of Management and Budget director, is seen as a surprising choice to lead the spy agency, not known for welcoming directors perceived as outsiders, The New York Times reported.
Among the lawmakers expressing skepticism was Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., incoming chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which would handle confirmation hearings for the CIA directorship. In a statement, Feinstein indicated her dissatisfaction and said she was not notified in advance.
"My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time," she said Monday.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., the panel's outgoing chairman, expressed similar views as well as concern about Panetta's political background.
"The need for the CIA director to be completely apolitical and Panetta' lack of experience in intelligence concerns me," Rockefeller said through his office.
Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., the committee's ranking Republican, said he would be "looking hard at Panetta's intelligence expertise and qualifications."
However, panel member Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told the Times Panetta is a "strong choice" who would "usher in a new era of accountability at the nation's premier intelligence agency."