By Pam Benson
Seemingly the perennial bridesmaid, Deputy CIA Director Mike Morell is retiring after a 33-year career.
His successor is Avril Haines, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama who will become the first woman to occupy the No. 2 spot.
Morell, 54, has been deputy director for the past three years and twice has been called to serve as acting chief.
The first time he covered a two-month gap in the summer of 2011 between the departure of Leon Panetta and the arrival of David Petraeus.
When Petraeus suddenly resigned late last year after admitting to an affair, Morell was considered one of the leading candidates to take over.
Obama instead nominated John Brennan, his terrorism adviser. Brennan was confirmed by the Senate and assumed the top job in March.
At the time, many people wondered if Morell would stay on.
Brennan said in a statement that he had looked forward to working with Morell and thanked him for helping with his transition back to the agency.
"Michael has come to personify the strengths and qualities of this great organization, and it is difficult for me to imagine CIA without Michael's exceptionally sharp mind, tremendous energy and absolute dedication to mission," Brennan said.
Morell said Brennan's presence made his decision "both tougher and easier" because he expected great accomplishments during Brennan's tenure and would have liked to be at his side.
He tried to put to rest any suggestion his departure was anything but a desire to spend more time with his family after a very demanding career.
"Whenever someone involved in the rough and tumble of Washington decides to move on, there is speculation in various quarters about the 'real reason,'" Morell said. "But when I say that it is time for my family, nothing could be more real than that."
Haines is a senior national security official who worked closely with Brennan when he was at the White House.
Brennan noted that she chaired a group that reviews the CIA's most sensitive programs.
"In every instance, Avril's command of substance, sense of mission, good judgment, and keen insights have been outstanding," Brennan said.
Haines also held posts at the State Department, worked on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and has represented the U.S. in international negotiations at the United Nations.
She only recently had been nominated by Obama to be the legal adviser at the State Department. But with Morell's decision to retire, she was designated to the CIA.
Morell began his career at the CIA in 1980 as an analyst concentrating on international energy issues.
He moved up the ranks, serving as Director George Tenet's executive assistant, and was President George W. Bush's daily intelligence briefer at the time of the September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attack on the United States.
In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Morell led the team of analysts looking at what, if any, connections Saddam Hussein had with al Qaeda.
They concluded there had been contacts, but no operational planning. Morell was not involved in the CIA's controversial National Intelligence Estimate that wrongly concluded Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, the reason cited for going to war.
After a three year overseas assignment, Morell returned to CIA headquarters in 2006 to run day-to-day operations before being named as director of intelligence, overseeing the work of all analysts.
More recently, Morell has been caught up in the flap over changes made in the talking points used by officials to publicly discuss what the intelligence community knew in the immediate aftermath of the deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
After a CIA draft of the talking points was sent around to other members of the intelligence community for comment, Morell oversaw some changes, which included removing a reference to al Qaeda being linked to the attacks and taking out a section that discussed CIA warnings about terror threats in Benghazi.
Morell last day at the CIA will be August 9, and he already has one job lined up. Obama has appointed him to be a member of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board.