WASHINGTON — The former Navy fighter pilot who was an important terrorism-fighting official in the Bush and Obama administrations is resigning after 4 1/2 years on the job, the White House said Thursday.
Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, is credited with helping put in place major reforms after an al-Qaida bomb plot against a Detroit-bound airliner in 2009. The attempted attack highlighted a failure among government agencies to share intelligence.
Leiter's departure comes not long after the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, one of the top U.S. counterterrorism goals.
President Barack Obama said Leiter provided him and his national security team "an in-depth understanding of terrorist activities."
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Leiter's departure was his own decision. A U.S. official close to Leiter said he had asked to leave last year, but the White House persuaded him to stay on. Leiter told friends the successful bin Laden raid meant he could depart on a high note.
Leiter also contributed to the White House's forthcoming new national counterterrorism strategy, which will outline what an administration official called "a broad, sustained, and integrated campaign against al-Qaida."
The official said the strategy, to be announced this summer, will help coordinate U.S. counterterrorism efforts with those of its allies, in the wake of the bin Laden killing and political upheaval throughout the Mideast.
A second U.S. official said it sets priorities for terror targets and breaks threats into two tiers, according to the level of danger to the U.S.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive strategic matters.
Leiter has worked under four directors of national intelligence, and three different CIA directors.
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said Leiter provided "important continuity ... through the transition from the Bush administration to the Obama administration."
Leiter is "leaving huge shoes to fill," Rogers said.
There was no immediate word on a replacement for Leiter, who will leave in July. His deputy, Andrew Liepman, will serve as acting director in the interim.
Leiter has not decided what he'll do next, but he will be staying in Washington, one official said.
He got married a month ago, a long-planned event that landed on the weekend of the bin Laden raid.
Associated Press writer Julie Pace contributed to this report.
National Counterterrorism Center: http://www.nctc.gov/