The White House planned to quickly nominate a new CIA director to replace outgoing Porter Goss, who offered little explanation in announcing his resignation from the embattled agency.
The leading candidate to replace him is Air Force General Michael Hayden, top deputy to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, said a senior administration official. An announcement could come as early as tomorrow.
Hayden was National Security Agency director until becoming the nation's No. 2 intelligence official a year ago.
Since December, he has aggressively defended the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program. He was one of its chief architects.
Goss was scheduled to deliver a commencement speech yesterday at Ohio's Tiffin University, one of a growing number of schools to offer national security studies programs.
Goss spent 40 years in federal and local government, including 16 years as a congressman and 10 years as a CIA operative in the 1960s and 1970s. He stepped down as the agency's director after 19 tumultuous months, as the agency struggled to forge a new identity in an era of government overhauls stemming from Sept. 11 and the flawed prewar intelligence on Iraq.
He offered little publicly to explain his decision.
"CIA remains the gold standard," he said in a statement. "When I came to CIA in September of 2004, I wanted to accomplish some very specific things, and we have made great strides on all fronts."
But the agency, like the Bush administration, has been far from peaceful. Goss' departure was the White House's third major personnel change in just over a month, aimed at reinvigorating President Bush's second term.
Knowledgeable Republicans said on Friday night that Hayden was thought to top Bush's short list of candidates to replace Goss. Among others mentioned were Bush's homeland security adviser, Frances Fragos Townsend; David Shedd, Negroponte's chief of staff; and Mary Margaret Graham, Negroponte's deputy for intelligence collection.
It was not clear why Goss resigned so unexpectedly. An intelligence official, speaking only on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his position, said Goss had stood up for the agency when there were differences with Negroponte's office, which was created about a year ago.