The head of the CIA's counter-terrorism center was forced to step down Monday over concerns that he was not aggressive enough in leading the agency's pursuit of Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, current and former intelligence officials said.
The sudden departure of Robert Grenier, who had held the position for about a year, was described by intelligence officials as part of an effort to reinvigorate counter-terrorism operations that have had mixed results during his tenure.
In the latest example of the difficulties the agency has encountered, the CIA carried out a missile strike that killed suspected Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan last month but missed its main target. The terrorist network's No. 2 leader, Ayman Zawahiri, and Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden have taunted the United States with messages promising future attacks.
Grenier, who held a series of high-level assignments overseas during his career in the CIA's clandestine service, acknowledged in an e-mail to colleagues and subordinates Monday that he had been asked to leave his post, officials said.
"He basically said, 'I've been asked to move on,' " said one intelligence source who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly address the issue. "This is a good officer. But it was felt by the head of the clandestine service that there were better choices at this time."
The head of the clandestine service, who remains undercover and thus publicly unidentified at the CIA, had preceded Grenier in the job and had become increasingly frustrated with his successor's cautious approach, the officials said. The clandestine service chief holds one of the top posts in the CIA and oversees the counter-terrorism center.
The CIA's counter-terrorism center, known as the CTC, has surrendered much of its authority and prestige over the last year to a new multi-agency counter-terrorism center created as part of an overhaul of the U.S. intelligence community.
But the CIA's center is still one of the largest and most crucial programs in the nation's counter-terrorism arsenal. The CTC mushroomed in size from a few hundred employees to more than 1,000 after the Sept. 11 attacks, and remains in charge of coordinating covert operations against Al Qaeda and other terrorist targets.
Current and former intelligence officials cited "cumulative" dissatisfaction with the way Grenier approached the job, but insisted that his departure was not connected to any specific failure, including the missile attack that missed Zawahiri.
Nor did Grenier step down over friction with CIA Director Porter J. Goss and his staff -- a factor that contributed to a series of high-level departures from the CIA in late 2004 and early last year, the officials said.
A CIA spokesman said the agency would not discuss internal personnel matters. It was not clear whether Grenier would leave the agency or accept another assignment. No replacement had been selected as of late Monday, the officials said.
One former senior U.S. intelligence official involved in counter-terrorism operations said there had been frustration with the pace of operations launched by the CTC, as well as with coordination with other agencies.
"How far had they come in the past 12 to 18 months in terms of sources of information or individuals who had been captured?" asked the former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I think part of it also reflects the bureaucratic squabbling that goes on across departments and agencies and whether the CIA's efforts were as aggressive as some other departments, notably the Department of Defense."
Grenier spent much of his career overseas as a case officer in the CIA's directorate of operations. Former colleagues said he was the CIA's station chief in Islamabad when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred, and that he had previously spent extensive tours in the Middle East.
One former senior CIA official said that it might have been difficult for Grenier to escape his predecessor's shadow.
"There's a saying we have," the former official said. "The two worst officers are always your successor and your predecessor."