Counterterrorism chief to leave in July: official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The director of the National Counterterrorism Center, a unit created after the September 11 attacks to improve the sharing of intelligence among competing U.S. spy agencies, is leaving his post after 4-1/2 years in the job.

A U.S. official said NCTC chief Michael Leiter would depart the agency, and government service, in July. The source said it was unclear what Leiter’s next job would be, but it was likely to be in the private sector.

Within intelligence and counterintelligence circles, Leiter was esteemed for his non-political approach to improving collaboration among rival agencies.

Under Leiter’s stewardship, the NCTC has been regarded as one of the few components of the Office of Director of National Intelligence which has had success in improving U.S. intelligence coverage and analysis of militant activity.

However, the counterterrorism center faced some criticism under Leiter’s leadership, particularly when the agency failed to put together clues which might have led to the early detection of Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian militant who has been charged with trying to blow up a Detroit airliner on Christmas Day 2009 with a bomb hidden in his underpants.

President Barack Obama praised Leiter in a statement on Thursday, saying he “led the National Counterterrorism Center with dedication and unwavering determination during challenging and demanding times.”

There was also praise from Republican Representative Peter King, chairman of the House of the Representatives Homeland Security Committee, who said Leiter had done an “outstanding job” while working for both a Republican and a Democratic president.

No immediate information was available about whom Obama might nominate to succeed Leiter. However, some counterterrorism experts said that candidates might include former Bush administration counterterrorism experts Stuart Levey and Juan Zarate. Nominees for NCTC director must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.