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Morell may be successor to Petraeus at CIA

Nov. 12, 2012 - 06:00PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 12, 2012 - 06:00PM  |  
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WASHINGTON — President Obama will probably avoid a prominent name and instead seek out a quiet professional to replace David Petraeus, the head of the CIA who resigned after acknowledging an extramarital affair, experts said Monday.

High on the list are the CIA's deputy director and the White House's top counterterrorism adviser, according to security analysts.

"They have two good candidates from within" the administration, said Michael O'Hanlon, a Brookings Institution analyst and member of the CIA advisory board.

The inside track may go to Michael Morell, who was named as the acting director immediately after Petraeus resigned.

Tommy Vietor, National Security Council spokesman, noted that Morell, who served as one of the primary briefers to the president during planning of the operation that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, "developed a very close relationship with the president" and "earned the president's trust."

Morell is a career CIA officer and began his career at the agency as an analyst tracking international energy issues, then worked for 14 years as an analyst and manager on East Asia. He has held several leadership positions at the agency.

Morell could serve as acting director for several months before a permanent replacement is named.

The administration may also be considering John Brennan, the White House's top counterterrorism adviser who has overseen the expanded use of drones and special operations forces against Islamic terrorists. Brennan carries some political baggage that could make Senate confirmation difficult. He withdrew his name from consideration for a top intelligence position in 2008 because of his alleged links to "enhanced interrogation techniques" while an official at the CIA.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a former FBI official, was another possibility, according to a report in The New York Times.

Experts said the administration will want to avoid a nomination process that dredges up controversial issues, including the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that led to the death of the U.S. ambassador and three others.

"I don't think you need to have a major personality at CIA," said Reuel Marc Gerecht, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former CIA case officer. "It's not required."

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