Acting leader of National Counterterrorism Center is fired
The acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center was removed Wednesday in what insiders fear is a purge by the Trump administration of career professionals at an organization set up after 9/11 to protect the nation from further attacks, according to two former U.S. officials.
Russell Travers, a highly regarded intelligence professional with more than 40 years of government service, told colleagues he was fired by acting director of national intelligence Richard Grenell, said the former officials, who like others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.
Travers, who took up the acting position in August, has resisted pressure to make personnel cuts at the center, which has been undergoing a review of its mission and effectiveness.
Also removed at the NCTC was Travers' acting deputy, Peter Hall, who is returning to the National Security Agency, the former officials said.
The surprise move came hours after President Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate Pentagon special operations and counterterrorism official Christopher Miller to lead the center. A deputy director will be named who will serve as acting director pending Miller's confirmation, said a representative for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).
A spokeswoman for Grenell disputed that Travers was fired.
Travers "was offered the opportunity to move to a new role and chose to retire," Amanda Schoch said in a statement to The Washington Post. "Russ told Acting Director Grenell he wanted to retire and that he did not want another assignment."
She continued: "We are grateful for Acting Director Russ Travers' many years of service to the American people. . . . Over the next few weeks we expect Russ to step out of his current position to prepare for retirement. . . . Russ' willingness to step up and serve as the acting director of NCTC multiple times is an example of his commitment to serve this vital mission. He has given NCTC many years of great service."
The removals have shocked Travers' colleagues who are upset at the treatment of someone so well-regarded, according to the two former officials.
Travers on Wednesday walked into a meeting expecting to brief Grenell on the center when he was told he was out; he had no intention or desire to retire, said one of the officials.
In the meeting, Grenell told Travers that he would like to know "how long it would take you to leave," according to the second former official, who was briefed on the meeting. Travers replied that he would need "a few weeks" to complete the administrative work, the official recounted.
"They said, 'Great, we'll afford you the opportunity to retire,' " the former official said.
In a farewell note to the workforce Wednesday, Travers noted Trump's plan to bring on Miller, lauded Miller's experience and said Grenell wanted to "assemble a new team." He sought to boost morale, noting the center's accomplishments. "We have recently been the subject of an external evaluation by a group of national security luminaries that strongly validated the need for the center," he wrote. "And most importantly, we have you - the finest workforce with whom I have ever been associated. I have no doubt that the center is postured for success going forward."
As the threat from al-Qaida and the Islamic State has diminished in recent years, intelligence community officials have been debating whether the NCTC, which is the largest ODNI component, needs to be as large as it is. NCTC currently has about 1,000 personnel, about 300 of whom are contractors and several hundred of whom are loaned from other agencies, including the CIA.