Top National Security Officials Slated To Leave Their Posts

A number of key national security officials are leaving this their jobs this year. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will wrap up his tenure at the Pentagon. General David Petraeus is slated to leave his post in Afghanistan, and Admiral Mike Mullen retires after four years as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

Now an update on a game of musical chairs in Washington. This spring and summer could mark an unusual amount of turnover among key national security officials.

The secretary of defense, Robert Gates, plans to step down, and General David Petraeus is expected to leave his command of the war in Afghanistan, which raises important questions about who will be running what by the fall.

Well, NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is in the studio with us, and he's learned some of the key developments, and he'll share them with us. Tom, let's start with General Petraeus. If he leaves his post in Afghanistan, where will he go?

TOM BOWMAN: Well, Michele, we're hearing from several sources, including government officials, that Petraeus is being seriously considered for director of the CIA. And what's more, he'd take the job if offered.

And the White House and the Pentagon have said nothing's been finalized, and the White House declined to comment, saying it's a personnel matter. But we're hearing this from a number of people. It's more than just a rumor. And knowing how the government works, you would have to have these conversations now with these people in order for them to be in the new jobs by the fall.

NORRIS: Help us understand something. Why would General Petraeus be considered for head of the CIA instead of a top military job?

BOWMAN: Well, one reason is a lot of the top military jobs are taken. Army chief of staff job has already been taken by another general. And the truth is there's really only one great military job, and that's chairman of the joint chiefs. But from what we're hearing Petraeus is not being considered for that top military job, chairman of the joint chiefs.

NORRIS: How common is it to have a military man as head of the CIA?

BOWMAN: Actually, it's fairly common. The previous CIA director was General Mike Hayden. He was a four-star Air Force officer. And having a military officer run the CIA goes back to the beginnings of the agency, more than 60 years ago.

Among the earliest directors was one of Eisenhower's top aides during World War II. And, of course, you know, Petraeus has worked closely with the intelligence community in his jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan, coordinating what they do with what his military does. So it's not like he's a stranger to the agency and its workings.

NORRIS: Now, we were talking about musical chairs, and if Petraeus is to move to the CIA, there's already sitting - there's already someone sitting in that chair. There already is a CIA director. His name is Leon Panetta. If this happens, what happens to Leon Panetta?

BOWMAN: Well, Panetta is seen as shifting to the Pentagon to take that job from Defense Secretary Gates, who's been quite clear he wants to leave that job sometime this year.

And Panetta is really well-liked by both Republicans and Democrats. He's a former congressman, Democratic congressman from California. So he'd be pretty easy, I think, for a Senate confirmation to run the Pentagon.

And the other thing is, you know, Panetta has a lot of experience in one of the key issues that will be facing the Pentagon, and that's the budget. Iraq is sort of, you know, working its way out. In Afghanistan, the Obama administration has effectively kicked that can down the road to 2014, when the Afghans are supposed to take over for their own security.

So the big issue now will be the budget. And how do you make the serious cuts in the Pentagon? And Panetta was, after all, budget director in the Clinton administration.

NORRIS: And Secretary Gates, what will he be doing?

BOWMAN: Retiring, somewhere up in Washington state. He's been looking forward to that, I think, for quite some time.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Tom Bowman. Tom, thank you very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Michele.

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