President Obama’s pick to be the intelligence chief at the Department of Homeland Security withdrew from consideration on Friday amid signs that he could face opposition on Capitol Hill over his role in the CIA’s interrogation of terrorism suspects.
Philip Mudd, who has held a series of senior positions at the CIA and FBI, said in a written statement released by the White House that he had decided to step aside out of concern that his nomination would “become a distraction” to the administration.
Mudd became the latest candidate for a high-level intelligence position to be forced to withdraw after being tied to the CIA’s use of severe methods to interrogate terrorism suspects.
From 2002 to 2005, Mudd served as deputy director of the CIA’s counter-terrorism center, a unit that swelled in size in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and was responsible for running the agency’s secret overseas prisons.
Since 2005, Mudd has served as an assistant director of the FBI’s national security branch, and has been credited with helping the bureau shift its emphasis from catching criminals to gathering intelligence and preventing terrorist attacks.
The FBI and CIA faced severe criticism for their failures leading up to Sept. 11. Mudd’s arrival at the bureau came amid a major shake-up in U.S. intelligence gathering, and was seen as an effort to bolster ties between the FBI and CIA.
An FBI spokesman said that Mudd is expected to remain in his job at the bureau.
White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said that Obama believed Mudd “would have been an excellent undersecretary for intelligence and analysis, but understands his personal decision.”
Mudd faced a confirmation hearing next week before the Senate Intelligence Committee. In recent days, key lawmakers said that Mudd was likely to face questions about his role in the CIA’s interrogation program.
Mudd’s position at the CIA would have given him direct knowledge of counter-terrorism operations, including the detention and interrogation program. But officials familiar with his role said Mudd was a veteran analyst and not an architect of the interrogation program.
“Phil Mudd did his job to help keep this nation safe in the years after 9/11, and today he is unfairly paying a political price,” said Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.
Obama banned the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other severe interrogation methods during his first week in office. But the controversy has complicated the administration’s ability to fill key intelligence positions.
Former senior CIA official John Brennan was widely rumored to be Obama’s first choice to lead the spy agency. But Brennan was forced to withdraw from consideration in November for reasons similar to those cited by Mudd.
At the same time, key Democratic lawmakers urged Obama to keep Stephen Kappes as the CIA’s No. 2 executive, despite Kappes having had extensive knowledge of the interrogation program.