Fran Townsend, the leading White House-based terrorism adviser who gave public updates on the extent of the threat to US security, is stepping down after four-and-a half years.
Her departure continues an exodus of key aides and confidants to US President George W. Bush, with his two-term presidency in the final 15 months. Top aide Karl Rove, along with press secretary Tony Snow, attorney general Alberto Gonzales, secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld and senior presidential adviser Dan Bartlett, have already left.
Bush said in a statement on Monday morning that Townsend, 45, "has ably guided the Homeland Security Council."
"She has played an integral role in the formation of the key strategies and policies my administration has used to combat terror and protect Americans," he said.
In her handwritten resignation letter to Bush, Townsend wrote:"It is with a profound sense of gratitude that I have decided to take a respite from public service."
White House press secretary Dana Perino said Townsend struggled with the decision, talking about it with the president for months.
In an interview, Townsend said she hates to leave when figures like Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida's No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, remain at large.
"Do I wish that I was going to be standing here when they are captured or killed? Absolutely. But I have no doubt that we will ultimately be successful," she said.
Townsend decided it was time to take a break from government work -- only a break, not an end, she insisted -- and look for a job in the private sector.
She hopes to work in global risk management for a large bank or financial services company. Townsend also said she has now changed her mind and would consider running for public office someday.
In the past, she prosecuted violent crimes, narcotics offenses, Mafia cases and white-collar fraud as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, New York, and as an assistant US attorney in Manhattan.
For someone who at one point had figured in speculation as to who would head the then-new Department of Homeland Security or assume the newly created post of national intelligence director, she became a familiar face for the administration, often appearing on morning news and Sunday interview shows to present Bush's case.
When Representative Russ Feingold called on Bush to refrain from using the phrase "Islamic fascists" on grounds it was offensive to Muslims, Townsend explained the president's use of the phrase.