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Petraeus Slated To Take The Helm Of The CIA

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Petraeus Slated To Take The Helm Of The CIA

National Security

Petraeus Slated To Take The Helm Of The CIA

Petraeus Slated To Take The Helm Of The CIA

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President Obama nominated Gen. David Petraeus to be the next head of the Central Intelligence Agency. Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan, will retire from the military to take the post at CIA.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And now to the changes coming at the CIA. NPR's Rachel Martin has more on the president's decision to tap General David Petraeus to lead the agency.

RACHEL MARTIN: No one questions General Petraeus' military credentials. He's often credited with turning around the war in Iraq. And last year, when President Obama asked, Petraeus agreed to replace General Stanley McChrystal as the top commander in Afghanistan.

So the official Washington response to the Petraeus nomination has sounded a lot like this.

Professor JOHN McLAUGHLIN (Johns Hopkins University.): He brings a great reputation. He's widely respected.

MARTIN: That's John McLaughlin. He used to be the number two at the CIA. Now he teaches at Johns Hopkins University.

Prof. McLAUGHLIN: He is seen as someone who can deal effectively with Congress. He also knows the agency pretty well, I think, by virtue of having dealt with it in two war zones now.

MARTIN: But there are some questions about the Petraeus nomination. First off, he's an outsider being asked to take over a very insular community.

Petraeus has been cooperating with the CIA, especially in coordinating drone strikes along the Afghan-Pakistan border. But in a statement yesterday, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said there's a big difference between being what's called a consumer of intelligence - as Petraeus has been - and heading the agency that actually collects it in the first place.

Mr. RICK NELSON (Center for Strategic and International Studies): Well, there's a natural skepticism to anyone who's outside the community.

MARTIN: That's Rick Nelson with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He says the current director, Leon Panetta, had to overcome the outsider label too.

Mr. NELSON: Director Panetta has demonstrated you can be a complete outsider, come in and earn the trust and respect of the workforce and actually be a very effective leader and manager. Petraeus has the gravitas to come in and do that, and he has the reputation, but he is going to have to kind of re-earn it as the director of the CIA.

MARTIN: Another critique: Petraeus has been looking at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through a military lens for the past decade. He is the architect of the counterinsurgency strategy in both Iraq and Afghanistan. His professional reputation is bound up in how these wars turn out. The CIA, on the other hand, has been far more skeptical of the strategy in Afghanistan. Intelligence professionals almost pride themselves on taking a grimmer, more nuanced view of the war.

So the question is whether Petraeus will listen to criticism of his own strategy and pass that on to the president.

John McLaughlin says Petraeus may sometimes view things differently than the intelligence professionals he's overseeing, and that's OK.

Prof. McLAUGHLIN: There have been times when the directors have actually represented the agency's view. In other words, this is the consensus I hear at Langley, and said, and I have a personal view that is not exactly like that. And that's a perfectly legitimate thing for a director to do.

MARTIN: If he's confirmed by the Senate, David Petraeus will retire from the military and take off his Army uniform. But it's unlikely that a four-star general, with such a high profile in Washington, will just slink off into the shadows of the spy world. In fact, putting Petraeus at the CIA could alter the balance of power within the intelligence community.

The key intelligence reform after 9/11 was the creation of one top job meant to coordinate among all 16 agencies, mediate turf wars, make sure they share intelligence. That's the job description of the Director of National Intelligence, or DNI. There have been four DNIs since the job was created, and each has had a hard time asserting the authority they're supposed to have, sometimes because of a power struggle with the head of the CIA.

Right now, the DNI is a retired three-star general named James Clapper.

John McLaughlin says there's a natural tension between the two jobs.

Prof. McLAUGHLIN: There are things that the CIA director is uniquely responsible for, like covert action, and things that the DNI is uniquely responsible for, like developing policies across 16 agencies. And when it comes to someone who has to speak for all of these agencies, I think the White House will turn to the DNI. We'll see.

MARTIN: We'll see. Both former generals will be competing for the president's ear. As one former U.S. official put it, the idea of a retired three-star DNI overseeing a retired four-star, with the star power of Petraeus, could make things, at best, a little awkward.

Rachel Martin, NPR News.

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