Michael Scheuer, the author and former chief of the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit, announced yesterday that he had resigned from the agency so he could speak openly about terrorism and what he sees as the government's failure to understand the threat from al Qaeda.
"I have concluded that there has not been adequate national debate over the nature of the threat posed by Osama bin Laden and the force he leads and inspires, and the nature of the intelligence reform needed to address that threat," Scheuer, whom the CIA banned from speaking publicly in July, said in a statement issued by his publisher.
The agency allowed Scheuer to publish his book, "Imperial Hubris," anonymously, and to conduct media interviews to promote it under the name "Mike." The book became a bestseller.
But he became a critic of the war in Iraq, saying it inflamed anti-American sentiment among Muslims, and eventually his name was published. After some White House officials and pundits asserted that the CIA had allowed Scheuer to act as its surrogate critic on the war, CIA officials forbade him from speaking publicly.
Scheuer said in an interview with The Washington Post on Monday that he believes the agency silenced him after CIA officials realized he was blaming the CIA, not the administration, for mishandling terrorism. "As long as the book was being used to bash the president, they gave me carte blanche to talk to the media," he said. "But this is a story about the failure of the bureaucracy to support policymakers."
The statement, issued in the name of Scheuer's publicist, Christina Davidson, said Scheuer criticized the CIA leadership for allowing "the clandestine service to be scapegoated for pre-9-11 failures -- failure more properly placed at the door of senior members of the U.S. intelligence community and senior policymakers, for whom, in Scheuer's view, saving lives has seldom appeared to be the top priority."
Scheuer was chief of the CIA's bin Laden station from 1996 to 1999 and remained a counterterrorism analyst after that. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The statement released by his publicist said that "after a cordial meeting with senior CIA officials on Tuesday, Scheuer decided that it would be in the best interests of the intelligence community and the country for him to resign in order to continue speaking publicly with regard to Osama Bin Laden, al Qaeda, and the 9-11 Commission Report."
A CIA spokeswoman declined to comment.