Barack Obama was poised yesterday to nominate top counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan to lead the CIA, a senior administration official said.
Brennan, a 25-year veteran of the agency, would fill the gap left after the resignation of former Army General David Petraeus.
Brennan spent the last four years devising White House counter-terrorism strategy. He is an Arabic-speaking Middle East expert who once told reporters when asked about his work ethic: "I don't do down time."
Brennan, 57, may have lost out on the top spot at the CIA in 2009 over his support for the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" under the administration of George W. Bush - an issue sure to come up at his confirmation hearing.
But White House officials say they don't expect Brennan to face similar trouble this time, given his four years of service in the Obama administration.
"The issue has been removed from the debate because the president and John Brennan, as his top counter-terrorism adviser, brought those techniques to an end," deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said.
Trained as a spy, Brennan rose quickly as a counter-terrorism analyst and manager in the Near East and South Asia branch of the agency's intelligence directorate. He capped his 25-year CIA career by becoming the interim director of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre from 2004 to August 2005.
During those years, Brennan witnessed firsthand the struggles between the CIA and the White House over pre-war intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and the links to terrorism of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.
Brennan then left government for a few years, working as a consultant in defence and security before accepting Obama's offer to become his counter-terrorism tsar.
In 2009, liberal bloggers zeroed in on statements he had made in interviews defending the CIA's use of "enhanced interrogation techniques". He said waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning widely regarded as torture, was inconsistent with American values and should be prohibited.
But in a November 2007 interview with CBS television, Brennan said enhanced interrogation techniques had produced information that the CIA has used against "real hardcore terrorists".
He said: "It has saved lives. And let's not forget, these are hardened terrorists who have been responsible for 9/11, who have shown no remorse at all for the deaths of 3,000 innocents."
In other interviews, Brennan has defended the practice of turning detainees over to foreign intelligence agencies for interrogation, rejecting charges that the programme aims to avoid US anti-torture laws.