CIA Director David Petraeus unexpectedly resigned Friday after admitting to an extramarital affair in a shocking end to an illustrious 37-year military career, in which he rose to become the Army’s leading counter-insurgency strategist, the top U.S. commander in Iraq and Afghanistan and head of the country’s premier spy agency.
“After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair,” Petraeus said in a statement to the CIA workforce. “Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the president graciously accepted my resignation.”
It is the first time in the CIA’s 65-year history that a director has lost his job over adultery, and Petraeus’ departure after only 14 months on the job roiled the agency, continuing a disruptive trend marked by the departure of four leaders in the past eight years.
In his statement, Petraeus said that he went to the White House on Thursday to seek President Barack Obama’s permission to resign.
Petraeus disclosed no details of the affair, including the identity of the other person involved, nor did he comment on the status of his marriage to his wife, Holly, who handles veterans’ matters in the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.
The circumstances leading to his decision to disclose the affair and quit weren’t immediately known.
In a statement confirming Petraeus’ resignation, Obama said that the retired four-star general “has provided extraordinary service to the United States for decades. By any measure, he was one of the outstanding General officers of his generation, helping our military adapt to new challenges, and leading our men and women in uniform through a remarkable period of service in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
As CIA director, he said, Petraeus “has continued to serve with characteristic intellectual rigor, dedication, and patriotism. By any measure, through his lifetime of service David Petraeus has made our country safer and stronger.”
Obama tapped the agency’s deputy director and career intelligence officer, Michael Morrell, as acting director until a replacement for Petraeus is found.
Petraeus wasn’t among the top officials who were expected to resign after Obama won re-election on Tuesday. His departure will force the president to devote unexpected time and energy to finding a new CIA director as soon as possible as the agency grapples with a host of difficult challenges, from the Iran nuclear crisis and the Syrian civil war, to the war in Afghanistan and drone operations against al Qaida in Pakistan and the Middle East.
“I am completely confident that the CIA will continue to thrive and carry out its essential mission, and I have the utmost confidence in Acting Director Michael Morell and the men and women of the CIA who work every day to keep our nation safe,” Obama said.
In an unusual statement, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., said that she’d wished that Obama had rejected Petraeus’ resignation request, although she added that she understood and respected the president’s decision to accept it.
“At CIA, Director Petraeus gave the agency leadership, stature, prestige and credibility both at home and abroad,” Feinstein said. “On a personal level, I found his command of intelligence issues second to none. He was especially cooperative with Congress.”