WASHINGTON – The Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday to confirm Gen. David Petraeus to be the nation's CIA director.
The vote was 94-0.
Arguably America's most famous military commander in a generation, Petraeus has been in charge of U.S.-led international forces in Afghanistan since June 2010. The West Point graduate and 37-year Army veteran is also credited with turning around the war in Iraq, from which U.S. troops have been withdrawing in large numbers.
Petraeus will retire from the army as a four-star general. He said he will leave behind his "military brain trust" of staff he has taken with him for the Iraq and Afghan campaigns. Petraeus said he hoped by doing so that he would ease CIA fears that he would try to turn the agency's unique culture into a military operation.
Petraeus replaces Leon Panetta, who will become the next Pentagon chief on Friday.
Panetta bade farewell to CIA employees on Thursday. Titled "Arrivederci," his message saluted the agency's ongoing battle against al-Qaida. "We had one hell of a ride together," he wrote.
Petraeus will head the CIA at a time when the White House is relying heavily on the agency's covert operations, together with elite special operation forces' clandestine military activity, to target terrorists. The White House unveiled a new national counterterrorism strategy this week that signaled a departure from invasions like those of Iraq and Afghanistan.
White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan promised more "surgical" action like the Navy SEAL raid that killed al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May. The Obama White House has championed such covert activity, including more than 200 armed drone strikes against militants in Pakistan's tribal areas, up from fewer than 50 in the previous administration. The CIA and the military's Joint Special Operations Command have carried out smaller-scale strikes and raids in Yemen and Somalia as well.
Drones operated by the Joint Special Operations Command were fired at two Somali al-Qaida targets in recent days, according to a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence. The official said the U.S. is still trying to evaluate whether the strikes, first reported by The Washington Post, hit the targets.
Speaking in support of the Petraeus nomination, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., mentioned the action in Somalia obliquely. He said "what happened in Somalia yesterday" proves the United States would track terrorist suspects wherever they hide.
Petraeus became well-known after then-President George W. Bush sent him to Iraq in 2007 to direct the administration's surge of troops into that country.
During his stints in Iraq and Afghanistan, Petraeus has been known as a prodigious consumer — and occasional critic — of intelligence produced by the agency he will next lead. In testimony, he said he found some CIA analysis overly optimistic and others too pessimistic, compared with his own analysis. He blamed the 6-8-week-old data used to compile CIA intelligence reports — something he said he hopes to change.