David Petraeus, the man at the helm of the CAI, the nation’s largest intelligence agency, stepped down as director on Friday 9 November 2012, saying he had an extramarital affair.
The resignation comes at a difficult time for the agency and Obama administration, which has been under intense scrutiny from Republican lawmakers for the September attack on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans — including the Ambassador Christopher Stevens and two CIA contractors — dead. Petraeus and other top U.S. intelligence officials were scheduled to speak next week at a closed-door session of the Senate Intelligence Committee about the Benghazi incident.
His reputation was potentially tarnished by the controversy over the terror attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in September.
Some Republicans have privately said they were disappointed in Petraeus for sticking as long as he did to the initial intelligence assessment that the attack erupted from a spontaneous protest against an anti-Islam video on the Web.
For many weeks the White House had come under intense pressure for the attack, before it finally emerged that the CIA had actually played a central role in the episode. Two of the Americans killed were identified as undercover agents for the CIA, and the vast majority of Americans on the ground that night turned out to be with the agency.
In a Wall Street Journal article a week before the election, several administration officials pointed to Petraeus specifically and accused him of mishandling the controversy, by appearing to be aloof and delivering misinformation to the White House in the early days after that attacks.
Congress intends to continue to investigate the incident.
Petraeus was expected to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee next week on the Benghazi attack.
Petraeus took over as head of the CIA in September of 2011 following his tour as head of allied forces in Afghanistan.
His sudden resignation came as a surprise, just days after President Barack Obama won a second term.
The resignation comes at a sensitive time. The administration and the CIA have struggled to defend security and intelligence lapses before the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three others. It was an issue during the presidential campaign that ended with Obama’s re-election Tuesday 6 November.
The CIA has come under intense scrutiny for providing the White House and other administration officials with talking points that led them to say the Benghazi attack was a result of a film protest, not a militant terror attack. It has become clear that the CIA was aware the attack was distinct from the film protests roiling across other parts of the Muslim world.
The CIA director’s bombshell took former military colleagues by surprise.
In addition to Petraeus, two other top-level administration officials, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, are also expected to soon leave the Obama administration.
Attorney General Eric Holder said on Thursday 8 November he’s also weighing whether he will remain for Obama’s second term.
Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, lauded Petraeus as a “true American patriot.”
Petraeus and his wife, Holly, live in Virginia. They have two grown children.
Here is the full text of Petraeus’ letter:
HEADQUARTERS Central Intelligence Agency
9 November 2012
Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA. After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.
As I depart Langley, I want you to know that it has been the greatest of privileges to have served with you, the officers of our Nation’s Silent Service, a work force that is truly exceptional in every regard. Indeed, you did extraordinary work on a host of critical missions during my time as director, and I am deeply grateful to you for that.
Teddy Roosevelt once observed that life’s greatest gift is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing. I will always treasure my opportunity to have done that with you and I will always regret the circumstances that brought that work with you to an end.
Thank you for your extraordinary service to our country, and best wishes for continued success in the important endeavors that lie ahead for our country and our Agency.
With admiration and appreciation,
David H. Petraeus