Michael Morell in the Capitol in November 2012 (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell, in a surprise announcement on Wednesday, confirmed that after 33 years of service, including two stints as acting director, he will retire to "spend more time with family."
To head off speculation regarding that familiar Washington excuse for exiting office, Morell added, "Whenever someone involved in the rough-and-tumble of Washington decides to move on, there is speculation in various quarters about the 'real reason.' But when I say that it is time for my family, nothing could be more real than that."
"As much as I would selfishly like to keep Michael right where he is for as long as possible, he has decided to retire to spend more time with his family and to pursue other professional opportunities," CIA Director John Brennan said in his own statement.
When the White House last month released emails regarding revisions to talking points about the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, some disagreement was revealed between Morell and then-CIA Director David Petraeus about how much information to offer the public.
[Related: Browse the Benghazi emails like an inbox]
Administration officials said Morell deleted a reference to warnings of extremist threats in Libya. They also said Morell acted independently of the State Department, which had also objected to that reference. Petraeus later suggested by email that the talking points overall didn't contain enough information.
Morell's decision also comes as the intelligence community faces fierce criticism over the National Security Agency's data collection program. He will be replaced by White House counsel Avril Haines, deputy assistant to the president and legal adviser to the National Security Council.
Morell, whose retirement will be effective Aug. 9, has twice served as acting CIA director, most recently after Petraeus' decision to resign after confirming an extramarital affair. Morell was high on President Barack Obama's short list of contenders to replace the retired general, but he ultimately went with Brennan, a White House insider.
In his statement, Brennan said Haines has worked closely with national security officials over the past several years.
"She has participated in virtually every Deputies and Principals Committee meeting over the past two years and chairs the Lawyers’ Group that reviews the Agency’s most sensitive programs," Brennan said.
Before her White House service—for which she was nominated this past April—Haines worked at the State Department. She has not worked inside the CIA.
"The arc of Avril’s career has given her a range of experiences on many of the same issues that we focus on as an Agency, and I very much look forward to Avril bringing her expertise, intellect, integrity, and dedication to national security to our Agency," Brennan added.
"She has a deep understanding of the Intelligence Community and she values the contributions of our nation’s intelligence professionals. The men and women of the CIA will benefit greatly from her diverse background and wealth of experience in national security," James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, said in a statement.
"No one knows the interagency decision-making process better than Avril, and she will no doubt be a tremendous asset to the CIA, the intelligence community and the country," Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said in a statement.
Haines' appointment does not require Senate confirmation.
Alongside the White House announcement of its intention to appoint Haines, Obama announced that Morell will be appointed to an administration post as a member of his Intelligence Advisory Board.
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- Board & Management Changes
- David Petraeus