CIA director David Petraeus resigned today, after serving in his position for only 14 months. In a letter to agency employees, Petraeus admitted to having an extramarital affair.
The news took Washington by surprise mid-afternoon on Friday. CIA chiefs historically don’t stay in power for very long, but Petraeus, a widely admired former general who is credited with heping turn around the Iraq War, had been expected to remain at Langley in the second term of the Obama administration. Despite persistent speculation that Petraeus might one day run for President—which he emphatically denied over the years—there were several indications that the CIA might be his last official post. Petraeus resigned from the military in 2011. He has been rumored to be interested in a position at a university, perhaps president of Princeton. And recently he was elected for membership in the Cosmos Club, a social gathering place for Washington intellectuals, whose members include several retired intelligence officers.
It was not immediately clear why Petraeus chose to publicly disclose the affair himself. Petraeus has been married to his wife, Holly, for 37 years.
Mike Morell, the current number two at the CIA, is being promoted to acting director. He served in that capacity last year when Leon Panetta stepped down to become Secretary of Defense. MSNBC reported that Morell is taking the acting job with the understanding that he might eventually be offered the directorship on a permanent basis.
But there are other potential contenders to the CIA throne, and Petraeus’s exit sets off a grand game of musical chairs in the Obama administration. Here are a few names that are likely to be on the CIA short list, if there is one:
John Brennan, the president’s counterterrorism advisor: Brennan, an ex-CIA officer, was in the running for the directorship in 2008, after then-Senator Obama was elected. But Brennan’s chances were doomed because of his connection to Bush-era counterterrorism programs. Four years have passed, and Brennan has become one of the most powerful figures in the national security apparatus, and a frequent public defender for the administration’s counterterrorism policies.
Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and commander of Cyber Command: Alexander has already served as the NSA director longer than any of his predecessors, and a move to the CIA would presumably allow him to retire from the military and end his long and distinguished career in the intelligence business on a high note.
Senator Joe Lieberman: He’s retiring, and has been on a few short lists to become the next Secretary of Homeland Security.
John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies: Hamre was in the running to be Defense Secretary in 2008. He was the deputy secretary during the end of the Clinton administration, effectively making him the COO of a department that controls the majority of spending on intelligence programs and activities.Jane Harman, former ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee: Harman has years of experience as an intelligence overseer, and her Washington connections run deep. She's currently the head of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She's the widow of Sydney Harman, the businessman, former Commerce Secretary, and onetime publisher of Newsweek. Jane Harman was passed over for the intelligence committee chair when Democrats took back the House in 2006. Nominating Harman would allow President Obama to make history: She'd be the first woman CIA director.