CIA chief Petraeus resigns over affair

CIA Director David Petraeus resigned Friday over an extramarital affair, bringing an abrupt end to a brilliant career that saw him serve as military commander in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

CIA Director David Petraeus, pictured in January, resigned from his post, officials said, as US media said he stepped down because of an extramarital affair.

The revelation shocked Washington just three days after the re-election of US President Barack Obama and shortly before Petraeus had been due to testify on the CIA's alleged failure to properly protect of a US consulate in Libya.

"After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair," Petraeus said in a message to CIA staff, released to the media.

"Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours."

It was unclear why Petraeus felt he had to step down over the affair, and whether his liaison presented a purely personal problem or raised security issues that could affect his work at the spy agency.

NBC television and other US media reported that the FBI was investigating Paula Broadwell, who published a detailed biography of Petraeus, "All In," for improper access to classified information.

The resignation comes amid criticism in some quarters of Petraeus over his response to a deadly attack in September on a US consulate in Benghazi, which killed the US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

Petraeus was due to face a tough grilling in a series of closed-door classified meetings in Congress next week, with some lawmakers questioning the former general's handling of the incident.

Michael Morell, Petraeus' deputy at the country's lead spy agency, will serve as acting director and Obama expressed his "utmost confidence" in Morell's leadership. Lawmakers said they expected him to testify in the probe.

As to who would be named the next permanent director, speculation focused on John Brennan, the White House counter-terrorism adviser and CIA veteran who has played an instrumental role in Obama's drone war against Al-Qaeda militants.

The most celebrated military officer of his generation, Petraeus, 60, took over at the CIA just over a year ago after retiring as a four-star general.

He was credited by some with rescuing a failing US war effort in Iraq in 2007, after then president George W. Bush ordered a surge of troops into the country.

Obama later turned to him to lead a similar surge of American forces in Afghanistan in 2010, leaving a top post as commander of all US forces in the Middle East to do so.

But Obama chose not to promote Petraeus to the US military's top job as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as White House officials remained wary of the media-savvy general who had pushed for more troops and more time in the Afghanistan war.

It was a rare setback for the ambitious, hyper-disciplined officer, and being passed over came as a disappointment, according to a recently published biography, "All In."

Instead, Obama gave Petraeus the CIA post last year shortly after the agency's intelligence triumph in tracking down and killing Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Obama accepted the CIA chief's resignation after meeting with him on Thursday, hailing his "extraordinary service."

"By any measure, he was one of the outstanding general officers of his generation, helping our military adapt to new challenges, and leading our men and women in uniform through a remarkable period of service in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he helped our nation put those wars on a path to a responsible end," he said.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lamented the "loss of one of our nation's most respected public servants."

Although Petraeus had only been at the CIA for about a year, he had worked to shift the spy agency to a more "balanced" approach to intelligence gathering, after an intense focus on terror threats after the September 11, 2001 attacks, said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank.

"He had already begun to position the agency to live in the post-911 world," he said.

Senator John McCain, a loyal supporter who championed the general's surge strategy in Iraq, heaped praised on Petraeus for his tenure as commander there.

"General David Petraeus will stand in the ranks of America's greatest military heroes.

"His inspirational leadership and his genius were directly responsible -- after years of failure -- for the success of the surge in Iraq," McCain said.

Petraeus has long been suspected of harboring political ambitions but he has repeatedly fended off questions about a possible White House run.

The 101st Airborne Division paratrooper, who rewrote the Army's manual for counter-insurgency warfare, is a keen athlete who twice escaped death, once when he was shot accidentally during training and then during a parachute jump that went wrong.

No US general since William Westmoreland during the Vietnam War has been so influential or prominent.

Intensely competitive, he graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point in 1974, where he met his wife, Holly, the daughter of West Point's superintendent.

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Writer: AFP
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