Roger, which is the first name of his cover identity, may be the most consequential but least visible national security official in Washington — the principal architect of the CIA’s drone campaign and the leader of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. In many ways, he has also been the driving force of the Obama administration’s embrace of targeted killing as a centerpiece of its counterterrorism efforts.
Colleagues describe Roger as a collection of contradictions. A chain-smoker who spends countless hours on a treadmill. Notoriously surly yet able to win over enough support from subordinates and bosses to hold on to his job. He presides over a campaign that has killed thousands of Islamist militants and angered millions of Muslims, but he is himself a convert to Islam.
His defenders don’t even try to make him sound likable. Instead, they emphasize his operational talents, encyclopedic understanding of the enemy and tireless work ethic.
“Irascible is the nicest way I would describe him,” said a former high-ranking CIA official who supervised the counterterrorism chief. “But his range of experience and relationships have made him about as close to indispensable as you could think.”
Critics are less equivocal. “He’s sandpaper” and “not at all a team player,” said a former senior U.S. military official who worked closely with the CIA. Like others, the official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the director of CTC — as the center is known — remains undercover.
Regardless of Roger’s management style, there is consensus on at least two adjectives that apply to his tenure: eventful and long.
Since becoming chief, Roger has worked for two presidents, four CIA directors and four directors of national intelligence. In the top echelons of national security, only Robert S. Mueller III, who became FBI director shortly before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, has been in place longer.
Roger’s longevity is all the more remarkable, current and former CIA officials said, because the CTC job is one of the agency’s most stressful and grueling. It involves managing thousands of employees, monitoring dozens of operations abroad and making decisions on who the agency should target in lethal strikes — all while knowing that the CTC director will be among the first to face blame if there is another attack on U.S. soil.
Most of Roger’s predecessors, including Cofer Black and Robert Grenier, lasted less than three years. There have been rumors in recent weeks that Roger will soon depart as well, perhaps to retire, although similar speculation has surfaced nearly every year since he took the job.