WASHINGTON — CIA Director Leon E. Panetta has tapped former Republican Sen. Warren B. Rudman as a special advisor, turning to a respected politician to help guide the agency through a congressional investigation of the CIA's interrogation program.
The decision represents an unusual step for the CIA, which has faced similar probes in recent years without enlisting such high-profile help. But the move reflects a recognition of the stakes of a Senate inquiry into one of the agency's most controversial programs in recent years, as well as the political instincts of its new director.
Panetta, a former California congressman and chief of staff to President Clinton, said in a statement that he had tapped Rudman, 78, because "he knows intelligence and counter-terrorism, and he has a strong bipartisan reputation."
It was not clear whether Rudman would serve as the main point of contact for the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting the investigation, or function as an internal advisor to Panetta.
A CIA spokesman said Rudman would not be paid.
Former CIA officials said that they could not recall a similar arrangement but added that the agency had been stripped of authority in recent years after previous investigations documented major CIA failures leading up to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the war in Iraq.
The decision to enlist Rudman is "unusual, there's no doubt about that," said L. Britt Snider, former CIA inspector general. "But you've got a guy who is well respected defending the agency, advocating for the agency. I think that does help."
Rudman, a former New Hampshire senator, was not available for comment. Although he left the Senate in 1993, he remains a respected voice on Capitol Hill and is a veteran of investigations of national security issues.
Rudman served as vice chairman of the committee investigating illegal arms sales to Iran in the mid 1980s. He was also a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the panel now probing the CIA's interrogation program.
The agency has come under severe criticism for its use of harsh interrogation measures on suspected Al Qaeda members, including a technique known as waterboarding that simulates drowning. U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. recently said that he considered waterboarding a form of torture.
Former senior CIA officials and former Bush administration officials have defended the interrogation program, saying that the methods were approved by the Department of Justice and yielded intelligence that helped prevent future attacks.
Panetta has criticized the agency's methods but said that he would oppose any effort to prosecute agency employees following orders and Justice Department guidance.
President Obama banned the use of such harsh interrogation measures during his first week in office and ordered a task force to examine the CIA's secret detention programs.
Panetta said Monday that he had set up an internal panel to assemble information for the task force and the Senate inquiry. Peter Clement, a senior official in the CIA's analysis division, was put in charge of the effort.