Another concern, frequently voiced even before Petraeus became director but one that his appointment exacerbated in the eyes of some, is what can be labeled as the militarization of the CIA. This concern has several aspects, including a worry about military requirements shoving aside other national needs in the allocation of limited intelligence resources. A more fundamental aspect is a possible loss of the CIA's focus on the core missions of collecting and analyzing intelligence if additional attention is devoted to paramilitary activities such as the use of drones to kill suspected terrorists.
This is a legitimate worry, but it is too often expressed in terms of the backgrounds of senior leaders in the intelligence community. The fact that three of the four men (including the incumbent, James Clapper) who have served as director of national intelligence (DNI) -- the job established in 2005 to oversee the entire intelligence community without running any single agency such as the CIA -- have been retired military officers has been much noted. But too much attention is devoted to past career tracks, whether of the DNIs or of Petraeus. It is unsurprising and appropriate that many people filling such positions have come out of the military. That is where much of the talent with high-level national security experience is to be found.
Nonetheless, the attention to this subject underlay the retirement of Petraeus from the Army before he took over the agency. He entered his CIA job as Mr. -- not General -- Petraeus. Some reporting indicates that the retirement was President Barack Obama's idea rather than Petraeus's own. In any event, the retirement made Petraeus an exception. None of the previous CIA directors who came out of the military took that step upon being appointed to the job. The most recent two military appointees before Petraeus -- Adm. Stansfield Turner, who was Carter's director, and Michael Hayden, an Air Force general who served under George W. Bush -- retired from the military only after each had already headed the CIA for two years.
Part of Petraeus's attraction in taking over the CIA was that he saw his mission there partly as a continuation of previous goals, including counterterrorism, that he had pursued in the military. But the CIA is not where policy that determines the extent and shape of the country's counterterrorism program is made. That policy is made in the White House. The future nature of the program will not depend on the identity, or the background, of the CIA's director.
Petraeus leaves the agency's relationships with other elements of the national security apparatus, both military and civilian, in rather good shape. We have heard less, lately, about the tensions between the CIA and the office of the DNI that stem from the confusion created by the reorganization that the 9/11 Commission devised. The public reaction by current DNI Clapper to Petraeus's resignation was a statement that praised "Dave's" contributions. Even poorly designed institutional structures can be made to work with enough skill and will from the people at the top. Individual working relationships that those people forge are critical, and different people in the same positions might not be as good at forging such ties. Nonetheless, the tone that the people at the top set shapes the work habits of the folks lower down in their organizations. Once formed, the habits can persist even after leaders change.
Had Petraeus remained CIA director for at least another couple of years, it is almost inevitable that he would have found marks to make that would add up to something that could legitimately be called a legacy. The man simply has exhibited too much initiative and dynamism in his career to expect otherwise. Perhaps he would have championed some doctrinal intelligence counterpart to the counterinsurgency manual he wrote at Fort Leavenworth. But we will never know.
Meanwhile, the CIA will shake off this latest turbulence and go about performing its mission. Despite the public distractions, the vast majority of the workforce is still focused on performing or supporting the core functions of collecting and analyzing intelligence. Scandals and controversies are, for that vast majority, outside noise that has little or no impact on their jobs. The latest scandal briefly provides a topic for water-cooler conversation. And then people go back to work.