Wednesday, February 08, 2006

CIA counter-terrorism chief steps down

CIA counter-terrorism chief steps down

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the CIA's counter-terrorism center has been forced to step down as part of efforts by the spy agency to bolster its pursuit of al Qaeda, current and former intelligence officials said on Tuesday.

Robert Grenier, 51, told colleagues in an e-mail on Monday that he had been asked to move on from the helm of the unit that plans and executes CIA counter-terrorism operations and provides analysis on terrorism issues.

It was not clear whether Grenier planned to leave the spy agency and there was no immediate word on who would succeed him in the counter-terrorism post.

The CIA has been criticized for failing to track down al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, who are believed to be somewhere along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

A failed CIA attempt to eliminate Zawahri with a missile strike last month in Pakistan was condemned in Islamabad and set off anti-American protests across the country after 18 civilians including women and children died in the attack.

The CIA's counter-terrorism center has recently lost stature as the result of intelligence reforms that created the National Counter-terrorism Center to oversee strategic planning and serve as a clearinghouse for intelligence and analysis for the entire intelligence community in that area.

An intelligence source, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the departure, said Grenier was asked to step aside by the CIA clandestine service chief, whose identity is secret.

"There is a sense that he was not necessarily aggressive enough or forward leaning enough, that this is a good officer but there might be a better choice for this post at this time," the source said.

Grenier, who has been director of the counter-terrorism center for less than a year, had spent much of his career undercover in overseas assignments, often in the Middle East. He was CIA station chief in Islamabad at the time of the September 11 attacks.

Former CIA Director George Tenet named him chief of the CIA's Iraq Operations Group in mid-2002 as the Bush administration moved toward war with Saddam Hussein.

Grenier was not available for comment.