In October 2007, National Counterterrorism Center director John Scott Redd, a retired Navy vice admiral, told a TV interviewer that the invasion of Iraq "probably" did not make the U.S. safer from terrorism. A few days later, Redd resigned, citing health concerns. Bush administration officials denied that Redd's departure had anything to do with his comments, and the post has remained vacant—which is odd, since the NCTC is one of the few undisputed bright spots of post-9/11 intelligence reform legislation. Since Redd left, the NCTC has been run on an interim basis by one of his deputies, Michael Leiter, a former Navy aviator and federal prosecutor whose leadership has won praise from intel officials and congressional monitors.
But until very recently, the White House has appeared reluctant to name Leiter as permanent NCTC chief. Instead, it spent months on a fruitless search for a higher-profile director, according to two government officials who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive matters. Several possible candidates, including military officers and CIA executives, turned the job down. Administration officials and Republican congressmen concluded that candidates were scared off by the prospect of the Senate confirmation process—especially since the job could be short-lived, with only a year left in the Bush presidency.
So why hasn't the White House offered the post to Leiter? One factor could be his political credentials. According to his official biography, Leiter, a Harvard law graduate, once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, a liberal Bill Clinton appointee. A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment; a spokesman for the office of National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell declined to comment. Just hours after NEWSWEEK first inquired about the NCTC position, however, one government official indicated that the White House may well nominate Leiter in the near future.