Early in May 2011, while most restaurateurs were wrapping up the lunch shift, the United States’ highest-ranking intelligence officer was focused on a potentially world-shaking situation in his line of work. Special forces were infiltrating a compound that might or might not be hiding the country’s Number One enemy. If the mission was ill-conceived, the U.S. would be disgraced. If the Central Intelligence Agency had read the signs correctly, American soldiers might still die. If it had bet wrong or mis-planned, the consequences could be catastrophic and global.
The daunting responsibility rested on CIA Director Leon Panetta, who will draw on the experience of eliminating Osama bin Laden and the rest of his high-pressure public service career for a keynote address at the 2015 Restaurant Leadership Conference.
Panetta stepped out of the political spotlight last year, relinquishing his duties as U.S. Secretary of Defense after overseeing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and initiating the wind-down of forces in Afghanistan. It was the latest chapter in a service career that started in the mid-1960s, when the northern California native served as an Army Intelligence officer.
His work life began in a different form of service. Panetta’s Italian immigrant parents ran a restaurant in Monterey, where the young man was responsible for such high-security missions as keeping the floor swept.
Panetta would serve as a U.S. Congressman for 16 years before being appointed White House chief of staff by President Bill Clinton. His leadership of the CIA and the Defense Department would follow.
Panetta is the latest in a long line of public figures to speak at the RLC. Last year’s keynoter was President Clinton. The year before, President George W. Bush spoke in an off-the-record session. Others have included Vice President Dan Quayle and U.S. Secretary of Housing Jack Kemp.
Next year’s RLC is scheduled for March 22-25 at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz.