Petraeus’s nomination triggered some grumbling among CIA veterans opposed to putting a career military officer in charge of an agency with a long tradition of civilian leadership.
Others voiced concern that Petraeus is too wedded to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and the troop-heavy, counterinsurgency strategy he designed — to deliver impartial assessments of those wars as head of the CIA.
Indeed, over the past year the CIA has generally presented a more pessimistic view of the war in Afghanistan than Petraeus has while he has pushed for an extended troop buildup.
“The question is, what does [the administration] want the intelligence service to be?” said a former senior CIA officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Are they going to have a civilian intelligence service or is it going to be a giant counterterrorism center?”
Obama administration officials said that Petraeus would retire from the military to take the CIA job. Even so, a U.S. official close to the general said he is likely to view running the agency largely through the prism of his experience as a wartime commander.
The official said Petraeus would likely make frequent visits to CIA stations around the world, and defer to the Director of National Intelligence on Washington-based issues such as budgets and big-ticket technology programs.
Petraeus has spent relatively little time in Washington over the past decade and doesn’t have as much experience with managing budgets or running Washington bureaucracies as CIA predecessors Leon E. Panetta and Michael V. Hayden. But Petraeus has quietly lobbied for the CIA post, drawn in part by the chance for a position that would keep him involved in the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen.
As top commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Petraeus has relied heavily on CIA and special operations forces to capture and kill mid-level and senior insurgent leaders. But he has insisted that the targeted strikes be a part of a broader and more comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign — putting him at odds with advocates of a more surgical approach, including Vice President Biden.
Petraeus, 58, is intensely organized and has relied on a network of trusted advisers, many with biographies similar to his own, with stints in combat units, graduate school and teaching at West Point. CIA veterans said it would be a mistake for Petraeus to arrive with an entourage. “If you look like you’re coming in to fix us and show us how to do things,” one former official said, “the antibodies start rejecting the transplant.”
Staff writer Walter Pincus contributed to this report.