Leon Panetta, a former congressman who also served as Director of the Office of Management and Budget in addition to President Clinton's chief of staff, made clear that the Obama administration would offer a clean break from the detainee policies of the previous Bush administration.
Panetta said the current administration would not send prisoners to third countries where they could be tortured, as he said he believes happened under President George Bush. "That kind of extraordinary rendition, where we send someone for the purpose of torture or actions by another country that violate our human values, that has been forbidden by executive order."
Panetta said he did know exactly what happened in the secret program for so-called prisoner renditions.
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden had acknowledged that the Bush administration moved secret detainees to other countries for interrogation and imprisonment, outside the U.S. judicial system.
Panetta said he does not believe CIA officers who took part in harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding - or simulated drowning, should be prosecuted. But he said if interrogators went beyond methods they were told were legal, they should be investigated.
Among the CIA's goals, Panetta says finding terrorist leader Osama bin Laden remains a top priority. He addressed the issue in this exchange with Senator Christopher Bond, a Missouri Republican.
PANETTA: "If we captured Osama bin Laden, we would find a place to hold him temporarily."
BOND: "Where would you hold him permanently? I wouldn't think you would want to turn him loose, would you?"
PANETTA: We certainly don't want to let him loose. We would debrief him and then we would incarcerate him, probably in a military prison.
Panetta also said he believes the United States needs to improve its intelligence gathering in certain areas of the world and on certain issues. "We are not as strong as we should be I believe in Russia, in China, in Africa. I think we need to know more for example, about the current economic crisis that is not only impacting this country, but impacting the world. What are the consequences of that in terms of stability in the world? We need to understand that," he said.
Panetta, who is expected to be easily confirmed by the Senate in the coming weeks, returns for a second day of questioning before the Senate Intelligence Committee Friday.