In what would be a historic victory for the president, intelligence agents on the ground in Pakistan had finally found Public Enemy No. 1, Osama bin Laden.
The time to strike was now.
And so at 10:35 a.m. on April 29, 2011, nearly one year ago, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta wrote the “memo for the record,” per protocol, on his official letterhead. The message was clear: Get in, kill the terrorist, get out.
Or was it clear? The handwriting of the most powerful man in the intelligence community is chicken scratch, the kind of lettering seen on prescription pads and first-grade spelling tests (only with far weightier subject matter). Beyond authorizing Navy SEALs to assassinate the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, those scripted words also reveal the character of a man of great intensity and wild impulse.
Master graphologist Sheila Kurtz, principal of Graphology Consulting, has been called upon to analyze the handwriting of Michael Jackson, a candidate for sainthood, and Sen. John Edwards (she was the first to insist that his handwriting pointed to “sleazebag candidate”—before his marital and political shenanigans came to light). Taking a magnifying glass to Panetta’s missive, the analyst found some striking personality traits.
His imagination is huge and creative, Kurtz points out, judging from the jumbo-size lower loops in the “y”s. This fertile ground can create problems when combined with his drive to move fast, a trait noticeable by Panetta’s “remarkably small” handwriting, which indicates the ability to focus and concentrate with great intensity.
“He cooks up so many ideas that he gets scattered and confused, like a blacksmith with too many irons in the fire,” says Kurtz, who has lectured at the CIA. “He would be more productive if he were to abandon attempts to multitask and simply took one matter at a time, finished it, and moved on.” Too bad the day-to-day tasks of the intelligence director didn’t allow for such luxuries. Perhaps as secretary of defense he has found the time?
His horizontal “T bars” “fly with Thomas Edison-like enthusiasm above the top of the T stems,” notes Kurtz. This signals a man who sets impossibly high goals, yet he reaches some of them because his drive and enthusiasm are so strong. The initial hooks on certain letters showcase a strong desire to acquire “not just money but power or even wisdom,” while the final “tenacity hooks” indicate a person who hangs on to whatever he collects, be it intelligence, terrorists, or administrative positions.
Leon Panetta, Kurtz surmises, is an independent thinker—judging by his short “T stems” compared with other letters—and is capable of coming to his own conclusions after rather quick analysis. Yet his “muddy ‘E loops’ ” show a person who is anything but open-minded about matters which he firmly believes, so much so that he will brush aside any alternative notions. “He likes new ideas, but he’s not fond of change,” says Kurtz.
As a man in a high-risk job whose fingers are in every pot on the stove, Kurtz suggests Panetta can be impatient, especially with obvious wastes of his time, and can lash out with his temper, a characteristic evident by little scratches, marks that indicate he can sometimes engage in emotional outbursts. Another indicator that he can be temperamental: Panetta’s slant “is rather far right (directional, not political),” a sign that he has the urge to act on impulse. Fortunately, his long, final strokes signal the kind of caution that more often than not controls impulsive behavior.
He’s not exactly what Winston Churchill described as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, but Panetta’s completely illegible signature shows a man who holds the keys to his own mind, and doesn’t let most people in. “He won’t let anyone know who he is unless he’s sure of who they are,” Kurtz insists. But he knows when a rare opportunity presents itself, and he is quick to take action. After 10 years on the hunt, the CIA finally got its man.