The director of the nation’s top counterterrorism agency is stepping down after a nearly four-year tenure that spanned the reorganization of the National Counterterrorism Center in the wake of the failed 2009 Christmas Day attempted airline bombing to the successful raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.
The White House said Thursday that NCTC Director Michael Leiter, a Bush administration holdover who has guided the agency since 2007, made the decision to resign from his post at the government’s hub for analyzing potential terrorist threats.
“Mike led the National Counterterrorism Center with dedication and unwavering determination during challenging and demanding times, and our nation is grateful for his many contributions to our safety and security,” President Obama said in a statement. “I am confident that Mike will be leaving the National Counterterrorism Center, the counterterrorism community, and the nation in a significantly stronger position to confront the terrorist threats we face.”
Created in response to the intelligence failures that preceded the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the NCTC serves as the main clearinghouse tasked with analyzing and integrating various terrorism-related intelligence.
The agency faced criticism after the attempted Christmas Day bombing in 2009, when counterterrorism officials failed to “connect the dots” between various bits of intelligence and detect a plot by a Nigerian national to bomb a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit. Mr. Leiter in particular faced fire for being on a ski vacation, and the episode led him to reorganize the NCTC.
By leaving in July, Mr. Leiter departs on a positive note, having helped see through the special-forces operation on bin Laden’s compound, killing the Sept. 11 mastermind after a long manhunt.
Mr. Leiter’s resignation was noted by lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who praised his tenure at the agency.
“I have been consistently impressed by Director Leiter’s responsiveness, vision and dedication,” said Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine, the senior Republican on the chamber’s homeland security panel. “On a personal note, I have never been more pleased to hear from a government official than when Director Leiter called me with the welcome news of the successful operation against Osama bin Laden.”
Mr. Leiter’s departure comes amid a broad shakeup of Mr. Obama’s national security team. In late April, the commander in chief nominated current CIA Director Leon E. Panetta to succeed outgoing Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, tapping Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, to take over for Mr. Panetta.
The White House has yet to name a successor to Mr. Leiter. His deputy, Andy Liepman, will serve as acting director until Mr. Obama nominates a replacement, according to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.