At the close of his time commanding U.S. forces in Iraq, at the height of a legendary military career, Gen. David Petraeus was lauded by his boss, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, as "one of our nation's great battle captains."
The depth of admiration for Petraeus' decades of accomplishment in uniform make it all the more remarkable that barely a year after retiring to head the CIA he resigned in disgrace over an extramarital affair.
But all eyes now turn to the man who is his temporary successor and a strong candidate to permanently replace Petraeus: Michael Morell. This isn't his first time as acting director, he did a stint before Petraeus was appointed just after Leon Panetta resigned.
He has a close relationship with President Barack Obama having briefed him almost daily as Petraeus' number two.
A White House aide told Politico that Morell is “extraordinarily well respected in the White House, across the intelligence community and throughout the national security establishment.”
Morell's 32-year-career has been only at the CIA, where he interviewed at the age of 21 after college with no intention of actually getting the job. Although he had planned to teach after finishing grad school, instead Morell launched what would be a lifetime of learning the nation's top spy agency from the inside.
Hired in 1980 an economic analyst with a salary of $15,193, he later served for 14 years as an analyst and manager of East Asia intelligence. He was promoted to director of the CIA’s office of Asian, Pacific, and Latin American analysis in 1999.
He was for a time executive assistant to former CIA director George J. Tenet and was the person responsible for giving the president daily briefings. He overlapped briefings for both Bill Clinton's and George W. Bush's administrations providing both presidents with the latest intelligence.
He served as an advisor to Bush and was with the president on 9/11 in a Sarasota classroom. The Wall Street Journal said Morell “been at the center of nearly every fight against al Qaida and has seen the limits of U.S. intelligence" adding that Morell was also "the CIA’s devil’s advocate before the raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan.”
Earning high praise as a perfectionist, Morell has largely stayed in the background of his bosses. Indeed, the only criticism levied against him is that he is too much of an insider. But knowing the ins and outs of the intelligence agency has made him humble: “We end up having bits of information that have a multitude of possible explanations,” he said in a rare 2011 interview. “You’ve got to be really humble about the business we're in.”
Along with Morell the Obama White House considering a diverse range of possible successors:
- Jane Harman, who is a former California congresswoman and was the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee before stepping down in February 2011. She is the director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
- John Brennan, the Obama administration’s chief counterterrorism adviser, who has spent his career at the CIA and has served President George W. Bush and former CIA Director George Tenet.
- Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, who is a retired Army paratrooper whose name perennially comes up as a possibility for Defense Secretary.
- Tom Donilon, the president’s national security adviser, who has served in the State Department, though he lacks military experience. He has been closely tied to Obama’s handling of the Afghan war.
- Indiana GOP Sen. Richard Lugar, who was defeated in the GOP primary this summer, but is a longtime Obama friend. Lugar was the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – serving twice as chairman.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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