By CNN's Barbara Starr
As he takes the helm of the CIA on Tuesday, David Petraeus—now retired from the US Army—isn’t the first intelligence director who wore a uniform—but he may be the best known and that could dog the one time four-star general for months to come.
Even at his Senate confirmation hearings back in June, Petraeus acknowledged his military career—and the influence of the military– may loom large at the CIA. “There have also been concerns voiced over militarization of the intelligence community in general and the CIA in particular. One reason I will retire before assuming the directorship, if confirmed, is to allay such concerns. Beyond that, I have no plans to bring my military brain trust with me to the agency. There is no shortage of impressive individuals at the agency, and I look forward to interacting with them and populating my office with them. If confirmed, I will, in short, get out of my vehicle alone on the day that I report to Langley.”
Petraeus comes to the agency with the vast expertise of having run wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as serving as head of US Central Command where he came to know virtually every leader and head of intelligence services across the Middle East. Those areas, well as North Korea and China are likely to remain top priorities.
The Petraeus era at the CIA is likely to look very different however than his time commanding both those wars when he often granted interviews to reporters and television cameras. “Petraeus is going to disappear from view” says one close colleague. “The White House doesn’t want him out there.” The colleague asked not to be identified because he still works with Petraeus offering private advice. But he and others say the sensitivity stems from the continuing rumors Petraeus may decide to run for office, even though Petraeus has said he has no plans for that option.
Petraeus also comes to the agency as its work has clearly taken on greater military overtones. Even before the CIA led the military raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, armed CIA drones had launched dozens of missile strikes in Pakistan killing perhaps hundreds of militants since the 9-11 attacks. And in recent months, the agency expanded its cooperation with military special operations forces in other terrorist strongholds in Yemen and southern Somalia.
“We’ve just come off of ten years where the CIA has been closer and more intimately connected to the military than anytime in its history. There's a kind of intimacy between the military and the intelligence cultures that probably didn't exist 10 -15 years ago,” says former acting CIA director John McLaughlin.
Much of that intimacy stems from the very first days of the US war in Afghanistan when CIA officers were some of the first Americans on the ground secretly working with the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban forces. But now years later there are worries that Petraeus—who has championed what he views as progress in the US war there-may be at odds with the CIA which has had a grimmer outlook in the past. Petraeus acknowledged at his confirmation hearings that in December 2010 he offered a more “positive assessment” on Afghanistan than the CIA but said he had more up to date information.
Some wonder if his CIA analysts will be willing to speak their minds to the new director. A less than optimistic view about progress in the war could also bolster the case for continuing the counterinsurgency strategy that has Petraeus pursued when he commanded the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
“When they discuss Afghan policy, he will hear a range of views and people will speak their minds very clearly. And if someone disagrees with the point of view he is advancing, they will tell him. This is the tradition at the CIA. So there is a vigorous debate of all of these issues at the agency,” says McLaughlin.
Former CIA director and retired Air Force General Michael Hayden says Petraeus will find many familiar areas at the agency. “I used to comment that CIA, the workforce there, was the most militarized civilian community I'd ever encountered. Service before self, loyalty, patriotism, hard work – all those things we equate with the uniformed armed forces – General Petraeus will find at the CIA in full measure.”
But there may be one slight difference Hayden says. After decades of being called ‘sir’ by lower ranking military officers, Petraeus is going to an agency with a less formal hierarchy. He may have to get used to being called “Dave.” But then again, his closest military friends have for years called him something other than “General Petraeus.” The nickname they use? “Peaches” Petraeus.