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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Who is Linda Panetta?

Q: Is Leon Panetta’s daughter a "radical anti-American" who posed with Venezuela’s Chavez?

A: Actually, President Obama’s nominee to head the CIA doesn’t even have a daughter. The woman pictured in a false viral e-mail message is a Philadelphia-based photographer who says she’s never met Leon Panetta.


Is this true?


You’ll most likely never hear about it in the media.

THE NEW CIA DIRECTOR’S DAUGHTER…Can this really be true??

Linda Panetta

Linda Panetta the daughter of Leon Panetta, who was recently named by Barack Obama to be the new CIA director.

Linda is a supporter of all the anti-American regimes in this Hemisphere. Here she is with Hugo Chavez [Venezuela] and Daniel Ortega [Nicaragua], two sworn enemies of the United States.

She is a radical anti-American activist who wants to close the anti-terrorist School of the Americas, in Fort Benning, Georgia, where Colombian soldiers are trained. She says they are training criminals and is against any aid to the government of Colombia, our main ally in the region.

It is easy to confirm these facts. Visit some of her public web sites:

Would any reasonable and impartial individual be concerned if any of her activities are not duly probed and questioned during her father’s confirmation hearings, would the Senate "advise or consent?"


This chain e-mail is far from the truth, but it has fooled a number of right-leaning blogs and Web sites.

One blog claimed that Leon Panetta’s daughter is an "anti U.S. agitator" who "hangs out with enemies of the United States." Another called her "an avowed Marxist, anti-American, anti-military leftist." Many of them included the photograph that’s part of the e-mail above of Linda Panetta standing with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s arm draped over her shoulder as Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega looked on.

But this is at best a case of mistaken identity, if not an outright hoax. According to the biography posted on the site of Leon Panetta’s own think tank, he has three sons. No daughters.

Linda Panetta is actually a professional photographer based in Philadelphia whose organization and digital gallery is called Optical Realities. She told us in a telephone conversation that she had never met Leon Panetta, a former congressman and Clinton White House chief of staff. And she said, with what sounded to us like a trace of weariness, that she most definitely is "not his daughter."

A Distant Relative – Maybe

She may be distantly related to Leon Panetta, or perhaps not. She told us that her father is dead, but after she began getting calls about her supposed connection to Leon Panetta, she called an uncle to ask whether there is a family relationship. Her uncle, according to Linda, has met Leon Panetta. "He figured out that they might be third or fourth cousins," she told FactCheck.org.

Linda Panetta says that since the false e-mail began circulating, she has received so many messages – many of them hateful, a couple even threatening – that she stopped reading her e-mail.

She has indeed met Ortega and Chavez, as well as other Central and South American leaders. Her group’s stated mission is to "advocate for economic and social justice":

Optical Realities Mission Statement: Optical Realities is an organization that uses photojournalism and educational outreach to raise public awareness about world events, cultures, and the environment. We seek to use our first-hand knowledge and experiences in impoverished and war-torn areas of the world to advocate for economic and social justice. Through photo exhibits, presentations, and our website, we challenge and address conventional " First World " stereotypes at all levels in an attempt to dissolve prejudices and hostile feelings that often stem from misinformation or a lack of knowledge.

Many of Linda Panetta’s photos are of indigenous children. She began spending time in Central America, she says, during the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s. She also has been active with the group School of the Americas Watch, which advocates for closing a controversial U.S. Army facility at Fort Benning, Ga., that trains military officers from Latin American countries; its graduates have included former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and former Salvadoran death squad commander Roberto D’Aubuisson. Political pressure forced the closure, at the end of 2000, of the School of the Americas, but it reopened the next year under a new name: the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

Footnote: This widely circulated claim is so blatantly false that it has been debunked by Accuracy in Media, an organization that normally devotes its efforts to accusing mainstream news coverage of having a liberal slant. This time it found error on the conservative side, a rare event for this group. AIM accused conservative bloggers of making "an embarrassing error" by publishing a claim that is "without evidence." Cliff Kincaid, editor of the AIM Report, wrote: "The misinformation became a vicious circle. One blog cited other mentions of the alleged connection as if additional stories constituted confirmation." Another way to put it: Two wrongs (or 20, or 472) don’t make a right.

Kincaid cited "the need for higher journalistic standards in the conservative blogosphere." We completely agree with that sentiment, though we would delete the word "conservative."

–Viveca Novak


Telephone interview with Linda Panetta, 10 Feb. 2009.

"School of the Americas Closes; Critics Called Facility a Training Ground for Latin Despots," The Washington Post, 17 Dec. 2000.