In a move that had been expected for some time, Michael Vickers, the Pentagon’s top civilian intelligence official, said Thursday he would be stepping down from his job in just six weeks.
On Tuesday, Vickers notched his fourth year as under secretary of defense for intelligence, making him the longest-serving of any of his predecessors since the post was created in 2003.
“I am honored to have been able to help Presidents [George W.] Bush and [Barack] Obama, as well as our Defense Secretaries [Robert] Gates, [Leon] Panetta, [Chuck] Hagel and [Ash] Carter and [Vickers’ immediate predecessor and current Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper strengthen our national security,” said Vickers.
Vickers assumed the job in early 2011 after also serving as assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity and interdependent capabilities. With the 2012 election looming, Vickers took over as the White House looked to bring an end to the Iraq War—and did so in an abrupt drawdown that would precede one of the more significant intelligence lapses in recent memory with the rise of the Islamic State.
At the Defense One Summit in Washington this past November, Vickers said that while human intelligence was key to the ISIS fight, the Pentagon doesn’t need boots on the ground to protect intelligence collectors or assist with drone targeting. Geospatial intelligence and drone-based surveillance ranked higher than human intelligence, he said. “Boots on the ground have operational advantages, but how well you do from an intelligence point of view? It depends.”
During nearly all of his 40 years of service, Vickers has certainly been no stranger to unconventional warfare. He joined the Army and became a Green Beret sergeant in 1973 before being promoted to an officer in their ranks, and then on to the CIA. He was flatteringly immortalized in the 2007 film “Charlie Wilson’s War” as the CIA’s former Green Beret whiz kid who plays chess in his spare time. The Pentagon credits Vickers as “the principal strategist for the largest covert action program in the CIA’s history: the paramilitary operation that drove the Soviet army out of Afghanistan.” He’s also credited with playing a critical role in the capture and death of Osama bin Laden, a raid that took place less than two months after he began the job he’s now leaving.
The Pentagon said that Vickers’ retirement will allow the former spy “to take on new challenges, and spend more time with his family.”