They ran from the sublime (Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star) to the ridiculous (Barbara Walters’s pick for “Most Fascinating Person of 2010,” GQ’s “Leader of the Year: Right Man, Right Time” in 2008, the London Daily Telegraph’s “Man of the Year and second most influential American Conservative 2007”).
That may turn out to be the old Petraeus. The man who testified projected a different persona, and I expect that’s the person who, as he put it, will be “taking off the uniform that I’ve worn proudly for 37 years to do this job, I think, in the right way.”
Like the good soldier he is, Petraeus has studied the terrain, starting with discussions last year with retiring Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, a career CIA analyst and former agency director. Gates, who has grown into a superb public servant, hopefully offered lessons from his own checkered rise through the agency and government bureaucracies. Petraeus has followed up with meetings with several former directors and senior officials, including former president George H.W. Bush up at Kennebunkport, Maine.
And he’s received plenty of advice over the transom, so to speak, from retired CIA officers. One mailed memo arrived in a brown paper package addressed to his wife, Holly. It contained a sealed envelop with instructions: “Deliver this to Your Husband.”
Though he admitted he has much to learn about the agency, his written answers to committee questions about observed differences between the cultures of the military and the CIA are worth recording. He described the agency as “more informal and less rank conscious,” and noted that “intellectual rigor and experience tend to trump rank.” With a “flatter chain of command,” he said the CIA “tends to give its officers somewhat more discretionary authority, especially in the field,” where 25 percent of them reside.
Petraeus also pointed out the low attrition rate at CIA, where “employees stay on board for 25 years ore more.” In the military, roughly 70 percent leave before serving the 20 years needed for retirement.
His past experiences and recent conversations with CIA Deputy Director Michael J. Morrell (who will serve as interim agency head) and other senior officials also have introduced him to the varied cultures within the organization. Clandestine officers who recruit agents and manage covert operations are different from analysts who sift through data and produce analyses. Both, he said, have a “can-do” spirit that permeates through the agency.