Washington: US President Barack Obama began his second term with an unexpected opening for CIA director, and agency officials are watching to see whether his pick signals even a modest adjustment in the main counterterrorism program he kept, which is the use of armed drones to kill suspected extremists.
According to the Washington Post, the resignation of David H Petraeus over an adulterous affair brought an abrupt end to the short tenure of a CIA director who sought to cement the agency’s ties with the military and expand its drone fleet.
The list of possible replacements is led by three CIA veterans who have all contributed to the agency’s pronounced shift towards paramilitary operations.
Obama’s choice could determine whether the trajectory continues or begins to taper off, the report said.
White House counterterrorism adviser John O Brennan, 57, is seen by many as the leading candidate for the CIA job.
In recent months, he has expressed concern within the administration that the agency has become too focused on targeted killings, even though he has presided over the sharp expansion of the drone campaign under Obama, the report said.
The other potential nominees include acting CIA director Michael J Morell, 54, who is regarded as a stabilising presence more than a proponent of change, and Michael G Vickers, 59, a senior Pentagon official who is considered the most ardent supporter of the agency’s expanded paramilitary role, it added.
According to the report, US officials said Obama has not signalled his choice or even when that decision might come.
But senior lawmakers and agency veterans said that the next director will face immediate pressure to improve intelligence gathering in places beyond those patrolled by drones, the report said.
Former agency officials, including those who worked in counterterrorism, cited similar concerns over the need for a balance between paramilitary operations and intelligence collection and analysis, the report said.
“As much as there remains a terrorism threat, that can’t be the preoccupation of the director of CIA 99 percent of the time anymore,” said Bruce Riedel, a former agency analyst and adviser to Obama.
According to the report, CIA officials have argued in recent years that the agency can do both without erosion in the quality of its analytic work on other subjects.