New York Times
Published: November 11, 2012WASHINGTON — President Obama has begun searching for a new Central Intelligence Agency director at what many administration officials say is an especially awkward time: in the midst of investigations about the killing of the American ambassador in Benghazi, Libya; at a crucial moment in the covert war against Iran; and just as the administration is considering a more active role in Syria.
Dennis C. Enser/The Buffalo News, via Associated Press
Officials Say F.B.I. Knew of Petraeus Affair in the Summer (November 12, 2012)
A Brilliant Career With a Meteoric Rise and an Abrupt Fall (November 11, 2012)
Times Topic: David Petraeus
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
In each of those arenas, David H. Petraeus, who resigned on Friday because of an extramarital affair with the author of a highly flattering book about his military career, provided Mr. Obama with both experience and political cover. A hero among Republicans for his service in Iraq and Afghanistan — and his occasional public disagreements with the president over troop withdrawals — Mr. Petraeus had just returned from a long trip to Libya and the Middle East when news of the scandal broke.
The trip was a reminder, one senior administration official said on Sunday, of the depth of the relationships the retired general had nurtured throughout a long military career in the region, which Mr. Obama was relying on.
“He’s pretty critical to everything we’ve got on the table,” the official said. “At a moment when there is about to be a lot of turnover, Petraeus was going to be a source of stability.”
Even before Mr. Petraeus’s arrival at the intelligence agency, where he redecorated the director’s suite with guns and other memorabilia from his days in Iraq and Afghanistan, the C.I.A.’s influence in Washington was growing considerably.
Its covert drone program became Mr. Obama’s weapon of choice to attack Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan. And the agency became responsible for the broad attacks on Iran’s nuclear complex code-named “Olympic Games,” which included the first use of American cyberweapons against another state. Increased use of C.I.A. paramilitary forces brought the agency closer than any time in decades to its roots, in the clandestine operations run by the Office of Strategic Services in World War II.
Mr. Petraeus, by his own account, was initially an uneasy fit at the agency, but later became accustomed to its non-hierarchical structure. “The C.I.A., thanks to its seasoned and highly educated work force, does not need a heavy hand on the reins,” Mr. Petraeus said in a speech in September. “A light touch is generally all that is required.”
Several current and former officials of American intelligence agencies said they believed that Mr. Obama might move quickly to nominate Mr. Petraeus’s deputy, Michael J. Morell, as his replacement. That would put the agency’s most respected intelligence analyst at the head of the organization. Mr. Morell is of the “light touch” school, and clearly the favorite inside the headquarters of the agency in Langley, Va.
The president could also choose the man inside the White House who is considered by many to be overseeing the entire American intelligence infrastructure from his basement office in the West Wing of the White House: John O. Brennan, a retired C.I.A. operative who once headed the agency’s station in Saudi Arabia.
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