The CIA has appointed the chief of its Near East division, Robert Richer, as the associate deputy director for operations, according to U.S. officials.
Richer, previously chief of station in Oman and Jordan, has spent most of his career on Near East issues and assignments. He becomes the number two official in the directorate, which is charged with stealing secrets, recruiting spies and carrying out covert operations overseas.
In an unusual move, Richer's newly appointed boss, the deputy director for operations and former director of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, is still undercover and therefore not being named. Both men are well regarded by their current and former colleagues in the clandestine service.
"He's the best personnel choice you could have made for that job," Frank Anderson, former chief of the Near East division, said of Richer's appointment. Anderson said Richer had years of field experience.
The deputy director and associate deputy positions -- two of the most important headquarters jobs at the CIA -- were vacated this month when Deputy Director Stephen R. Kappes and his deputy, Michael Sulick, resigned to protest what they believed to be unwarranted attacks on staff members by Patrick Murray, the new chief of staff.
Murray was staff director for then-Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) when Goss was chairman of the House intelligence committee. Goss became CIA director in late September. Since then, nearly 20 senior officers have left the CIA, some choosing to retire early. The departures, and Goss's general lack of communication with employees, have left the agency in internal turmoil, according to current and former employees.
One well-known story about Richer is that, as a young Marine Corps captain, he marched his company to a course in unarmed self-defense one morning. Perturbed to find that the Marine sergeant teaching the class was a woman, he volunteered to be the first challenger, according to former colleagues who have heard the story.
Within seconds, Richer was flat on his back.
Shortly after that, the instructor resigned from the Corps, which does not allow fraternization between enlisted personnel and officers, so she and Richer could marry.