By Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 7, 2006
The CIA's top counterterrorism officer was relieved of his position yesterday after months of turmoil atop the agency's clandestine service, according to three knowledgeable officials.
Robert Grenier, who spent most of his career undercover overseas, took charge of the Counterterrorism Center about a year ago after a series of senior jobs at the center of the Bush administration's national security agenda.
When al Qaeda struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, Grenier was station chief in Islamabad, Pakistan. Among the agency's most experienced officers in southwest Asia, Grenier helped plan the covert campaign that preceded the U.S. military ouster of al Qaeda and its Taliban allies from Afghanistan.
By the summer of 2002, with President Bush heading toward war in Iraq, then-Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet recalled Grenier to headquarters and promoted him to chief of a newly created Iraq Issues Group. His staff ballooned as the administration planned and launched the invasion in March 2003.
Grenier's predecessor at the Counterterrorism Center, who remains undercover, moved on to become chief of the National Clandestine Service, the successor to the CIA's directorate of operations. Sources said the two men differ sharply in style.
Grenier, 51, is said by associates to be a polished and smooth-talking man with museum-quality mementos of his service overseas. His boss at the clandestine service, the nation's senior human intelligence officer, was said to regard him as insufficiently forceful in the battle with al Qaeda.
"The word on Bob was that he was a good officer, but not the one for the job and not quite as aggressive as he might have been," one official said.
Colleagues in the clandestine service, sources said, had been aware of the poor working relationship between the two men for some time and said Grenier's predecessor had been trying to force him out for months. Grenier's resignation was first reported on the Los Angeles Times Web site, which said he had sent an e-mail to colleagues acknowledging he had been asked to leave.
"The director of NCS," one official said, "decided there was somebody better, perhaps to better match his management vision, so [Grenier] is moving on."
The official said there was no specific operational problem. Another official said the failed attempt last month on the life of Ayman Zawahiri, al Qaeda's number two leader, had not played a role in pushing Grenier out.
Reached at home late last night, Grenier declined to comment.
The CIA's Counterterrorism Center, like the agency itself, has been shoved from its preeminent position in a turbulent reorganization of the intelligence community.
Immediately after Sept. 11, the center's chief was tough-talking Cofer Black, who told Bush it was time to "take the gloves off" against terrorism and promised "heads on spikes." Some of the center's responsibilities have since shifted to a new interagency counterpart that reports to Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte.
There were rumors last September, when Robert Richer, the number two in the clandestine service, abruptly resigned, that Grenier was considering leaving with him. But the CIA denied the rumors at the time and said Grenier was very happy in his job.
Several candidates are under consideration for Grenier's job, according to one knowledgeable official. Grenier, another official said, will be offered a job elsewhere in the CIA.
Grenier's departure comes at a time when the agency is bleeding top talent, robbing the CIA of institutional memory and damaging morale among case officers and analysts. Since Porter J. Goss became director in September 2004, well over a dozen senior officials -- several of whom were promoted under Goss -- have resigned, have retired early or have requested reassignment. Grenier was the third person to be head of counterterrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Like Grenier, most of those leaving the agency had spent their career in the clandestine service and had years of experience in the Middle East and, more specifically, with al Qaeda. Charlie Siddel, the station chief in Amman, Jordan, took early retirement late last year when he was recalled to headquarters. In the fall, the head of the European division, whose undercover role included overseeing the hunt for al Qaeda on the continent, also left.
Last month, John Russack, the program manager for information-sharing in the office of the director of national intelligence, was forced out after less than a year on the job. Russack, who had run the Energy Department's intelligence shop before moving to the DNI's office, apparently left after personality clashes with other top officials.
In the early days of war with al Qaeda, Grenier emphasized the need to convince Afghans that the United States had no desire for permanent bases in Afghanistan and wished only to help drive Arab outsiders from the country. Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda's Saudi-born leader, had built a state within a state, recruiting and training operatives from around the Arab and Islamic worlds.
Staff writer Peter Baker and researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.