WASHINGTON — Lora Shiao, a career American intelligence officer, will be the next acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center, the government’s central clearinghouse for intelligence on terrorist threats, Trump administration officials said on Saturday.
Shiao, who is currently the center’s third-ranking official, replaces Russell Travers, who was abruptly replaced last week amid planned cutbacks by the acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell, that have prompted fears among career officials of potential political retribution and a widespread loss of expertise.
Shiao will begin serving as acting director on April 3, a spokeswoman for Grenell, Maura Beard, said in an email. President Donald Trump has nominated Christopher C. Miller, a former National Security Council aide now working at the Pentagon, as his permanent choice for the top counterterrorism job, but it could take months for the Senate to confirm him.
Grenell was installed in recent weeks to temporarily serve as the nation’s top intelligence official and he has made clear he plans to overhaul his office. The effort, coming from a leader serving in an acting capacity and as the federal government confronts the coronavirus pandemic, has incited concern that the Trump administration is intent on purging career officials. But supporters of Grenell say that the office, which oversees the intelligence community, has grown top heavy and that other agencies could more efficiently handle some of its functions.
The selection of Shiao, first reported Saturday by Bloomberg News, won praise from intelligence and counterterrorism officials, who had feared a political appointee with little experience in the field would be installed in the post. Shiao will also serve as the center’s permanent deputy director.
“She’s held multiple senior roles across the center, and is an excellent choice,” said Javed Ali, a former counterterrorism center official who is now a visiting professor at the University of Michigan. “The key question now will be if all the big changes happen under her watch via Grenell’s mandate, or whether they wait for Miller to get there — which will likely take months.”
Shiao has been executive director, or chief administrative officer, of the counterterrorism center since March 2019. She will become the center’s first female director. Much of her work had focused on terrorists plotting against the United States and terrorist activities in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, according to her official biography. She has also served in intelligence jobs at the Justice and Defense Departments.
Grenell has begun a review to pare back the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, sending officers detailed there back to their home agencies, like the CIA. With about 1,000 employees, the counterterrorism center is by far the largest part of the national intelligence office.
The creation of the counterterrorism center has been one of the success stories of the government’s overhauls after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, collecting and fusing information from across agencies. Though terrorism remains a significant threat, it is not treated as the same urgent problem it was a decade ago, and some current officials believe the center could be trimmed back.