WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Leon Panetta is happy as CIA director and has not been asked by President Barack Obama to consider changing jobs, the agency said Thursday, as speculation swirled over changes in top U.S. security posts.
Robert Gates has made clear he plans to step down as defense secretary this year and the military's top officer is expected to retire, prompting speculation about who will move where in Obama's impending reshuffle of military and intelligence chiefs.
One scenario being speculated has Panetta — who turns 73 in June — replacing Gates and the director's office on the seventh floor of CIA headquarters being taken over by General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
Some Washington insiders even link machinations over the presidential election in 2012 to the Petraeus-for-Panetta scenario. They suggest the White House wants to find a high-profile post for Petraeus to ensure he will not be tapped by Republicans to challenge Obama, a Democrat.
Sources familiar with White House thinking say there is no doubt Petraeus is under consideration for CIA chief if Panetta moves. People close to Petraeus have not gone out of their way to shoot down the idea but have not touted it either.
"Director Panetta is proud to lead the men and women of the CIA and is focused squarely on the agency's mission," CIA spokesman George Little told Reuters.
"He isn't seeking any other job and hasn't been asked by the president to take on a different role."
Gates, 67, a former CIA director and a holdover from the administration of Republican President George W. Bush, has made no secret of his eagerness to leave the Pentagon.
He has been unusually outspoken about the need to limit U.S. military involvement in Libya and it is unclear whether he would support any expansion of operations beyond air strikes and patrols — if Obama were to make that decision.
People familiar with Panetta's views say he would be open to discussing a job change with Obama. But his willingness to talk is no guarantee he would actually agree to a request from Obama to move from the CIA's pastoral campus in Langley, Virginia, to the more frenetic Pentagon.
As a former congressman, federal budget director and White House chief of staff, Panetta has broad experience sorting out political disputes and complex government management problems.
When Obama named him as CIA director in 2009, veteran intelligence officials muttered about his unfamiliarity with the darker arts of spying.
But Panetta has bonded with CIA staff — not least by fighting off attempts by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to take away some of the CIA director's historical powers.
Panetta appears to be enjoying his adventure in the intelligence community. People who know him question why he would want to trade his current job for bigger headaches trying to tame competing military bureaucracies at the Pentagon.
The White House is understood to be considering several candidates besides Panetta to replace Gates, among them Sen. Jack Reed and former Pentagon Deputy Secretary John Hamre.
Precisely how and why Petraeus' name emerged as a possible replacement for Panetta at the CIA is a Washington mystery.
Petraeus, 58, is expected to end his Afghanistan assignment by the end of this year. The Pentagon grapevine suggests new roles for him could include the top U.S. and NATO military command post in Europe, known as SACEUR, or the top U.S. military post, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The White House and Defense Department had no immediate comment on the speculation.
© 2017 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.