WASHINGTON: It is a classic — and sad — Washington story. The most storied general since the Vietnam War, David Petraeus, resigns as director of the CIA late on a Friday afternoon because of an extramarital affair.

Petraeus helped revolutionize the ways in which intelligence was used by the US military and greatly improved cooperation between the intelligence community — as the alphabet soup of agencies such as the CIA, NRO, NSA, DIA, DNI and NGA are known — and the uniformed troops who go into harm’s way.

When he first took up his post at CIA there was considerable grumping about a military officer taking over the relentlessly civilian agency. A CIA official I spoke with a few days after he started work at Langley told me she was very uneasy about having a “uniform” working at the spy agency. She worried about his style and whether he would suppress bad news or try to trim analysts’ conclusions to fit what the White House or the Pentagon might want to hear.

Petraeus went to the White House on Thursday to tender his resignation “for personal reasons,” he said in a note sent to CIA staff. “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.”

Petraeus’ current deputy, Mike Morrell, will step into his shoes as acting director. Morrell may become the next CIA director — if there’s nothing that could derail him during a Senate confirmation. But two former senior intelligence officials mentioned other candidates.

“The prevailing wisdom is that Mike Vickers wants this with all his heart and soul,” a former senior intelligence official told Breaking Defense. Vickers, now the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, is the legendary former CIA operative who led the war against the Soviets in
Afghanistan chronicled in the book, Charlie Wilson’s War.

However, Vickers may face opposition from the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, said a third former senior intelligence official. “Vickers definitely wants to go back to the agency. But I’m not convinced the NCS guys would want him back,” this source said, noting that the CIA’s analysts would almost certainly welcome Vickers back with open arms.

The other candidate is Stephanie O’Sullivan, the principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence. She is DNI Jim Clapper’s deputy.

Just as Petraeus faced perhaps not opposition but unease when he joined CIA, his replacement may face obstacles if not from a background with which CIA personnel are comfortable with. “Much of this,” the third former official said, “will come down to who the organization will accept.”