Central Intelligence Agency director David Petraeus resigned last night as the chief of the United States’ leading spy agency after admitting he had an extramarital affair.
The 60-year-old’s abrupt departure after just 14 months in the role shocked Washington’s intelligence and political communities.
The decision appeared to signal the end of a decorated public career for the retired four-star general who had led US military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and been credited with achieving peace-keeping efforts in Baghdad.
General Petraeus’ resignation was confirmed in a statement released yesterday by the CIA workforce. The high-ranking official met with US President Barack Obama on Thursday to indicate he was stepping down. Obama accepted the resignation offer yesterday.
In his resignation letter, General Petraeus said: “After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair.
“Such behaviour is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.”
CIA deputy director Michael Morell will serve as acting director until a permanent replacement is appointed.
The sudden departure of General Petraeus is expected to create immediate turmoil in the Obama administration’s national security team just days after the president’s re-election.
Being engaged in an extramarital affair is considered a serious breach of security and a counterintelligence threat when it involves the director of the CIA.
Military justice considers conduct such as an extramarital affair to be possible grounds for court martial, with the risk of General Petraeus or the person with whom he was involved being open to blackmail.
Obama said in a statement that General Petraeus had provided “extraordinary service to the United States for decades” and had given a lifetime of service that “made our country safer and stronger.” The newly-elected president said he was “one of the outstanding general officers of his generation.”
Obama said: “I am completely confident that the CIA will continue to thrive and carry out its essential mission.”
General Petraeus wife, Holly, is known for her work helping military families.
She had joined the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to set up an office dedicated to helping service members with financial issues.
Though Obama made no direct mention of Petraeus’ reason for resigning, he offered his thoughts and prayers to the general and his wife, saying that Holly Petraeus had “done so much to help military families through her own work. I wish them the very best at this difficult time”.
General Petraeus added in his statement to CIA employees: “Teddy Roosevelt once observed that life’s greatest gift is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing.
“I will always treasure my opportunity to have done that with you and I will always regret the circumstances that brought that work with you to an end.”
It is not the first time a CIA director has been forced to resign in unflattering circumstances.
Former agency director Jim Woolsey left the role after the discovery of a KGB mole, while John Deutch resigned having put some classified information on his home computer.
He WAS a man considered one of America’s highest-profile leaders in the decade-long war on terror and a figure widely tipped in Washington circles as a potential Republican presidential candidate.
David Petraeus, 60, was a four-star general with a glittering military career stretching across more than 37 years.
He was born in the New York village of Cornwall-on-Hudson, the son of a Dutch sea captain and a librarian. General Petraeus joined the US Military Academy at West Point in 1970 and graduated in the top five per cent of his class.
He married Holly Knowlton, daughter of the superintendent at West Point at the time.
He would rise to the rank of brigadier general in the US Army by 2000 before serving in Bosnia with NATO.
General Petraeus attracted Washington’s attention in 2003 with his command of the 101st Airborne Division in Baghdad, Iraq. Counter to the Bush administration’s strategy, General Petraeus promoted a “hearts and minds” approach and was sent there in 2007 to put his ideas into practice.
He was widely credited for suppressing the level of violence in the war-crippled nation.
General Petraeus also earned credit after commanding US forces in Afghanistan in 2010.
He retired from the US Army in August last year and became director of the Central Intelligence Agency, until yesterday’s shock resignation.