(CNSNews.com) – CIA deputy director Michael Morell, who played a key role in editing the administration’s controversial talking points on last September’s terror attack in Benghazi, announced his retirement on Wednesday after 33 years of service.
The White House immediately announced that President Obama had appointed Morell to serve on the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, an independent advisory body.
Obama also nominated as the next CIA deputy director Avril Haines, currently deputy assistant to the president and legal advisor to the National Security Council. She will be the first woman to hold the CIA post.
“As much as I would selfishly like to keep Michael right where he is for as long as possible, he has decided to retire to spend more time with his family and to pursue other professional opportunities,” CIA Director John Brennan said in a statement.
“Michael’s devotion to the men and women of the Agency, our intelligence mission, and to a job well done has been exemplary.”
During his time at the CIA, Morell held positions included those of presidential briefer, director for intelligence, deputy director and acting director.
“From being the PDB briefer at the side of President Bush on that horrific day in September 2001 to being at President Obama’s side as the United States brought [Osama] Bin Laden to justice in May 2011 – and all the ups and downs in between – few Americans have been as privileged as I have been to work at, and to represent, such an extraordinary organization,” Morell said in a statement.
(The PDB, or President’s Daily Brief, is a highly-classified document on the day’s key national security issues. According to the CIA it goes “only to the President, the Vice President, and a very select group of Cabinet-level officials designated by the President.”)
“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.”
Morell made unwelcome headlines last month when documents released by the White House – after some had been leaked to media – showed he had proposed extensive edits to notes being prepared by the administration about the Benghazi attack, for public release.
U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, foreign service officer Sean Smith and Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed in the Sept. 11 armed attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya’s second city.
In a document dated Sept. 14 – two days before ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice would go onto Sunday television talkshows to talk about the incident – Morell advised the removal from the draft talking points of all references to al-Qaeda and previous terror activity in Libya.
His proposed edits included the striking of an entire portion reading: “The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al-Qaeda in Benghazi and eastern Libya. Since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador’s convoy. We cannot rule out that individuals had previously surveilled the U.S. facilities, also contributing to the efficacy of the attacks.”
On the other hand, he did not suggest in that instance any amendments to a part of the draft that linked the Benghazi attack to a demonstration at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo hours earlier (by Muslims purportedly angry about an online video clip denigrating Mohammed.)
The bottom line in Rice’s various talkshow appearances that Sunday was that the violence in Benghazi was, according to the best information available at the time, not a premeditated terror attack but linked to protests over the video.
She told ABC’s This Week, for instance, that “our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous – not a premeditated – response to what had transpired in Cairo. In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated.”
The administration denied subsequent allegations by some Republican critics that it had sought to downplay terrorism because the notion of a deadly attack on an American diplomatic mission on the anniversary of 9/11 would not be well received in the closing stages of the election campaign.
Criticism of Rice’s role in the affair was viewed in some quarters to have stymied her chances of being nominated secretary of state, a post that went to Sen. John Kerry.
Obama last week named Rice as National Security Advisor, a position which – unlike that of secretary of state – does not require Senate confirmation.