He also married a Muslim woman he met abroad, prompting his conversion to Islam. Colleagues said he doesn’t shy away from mentioning his religion but is not demonstrably observant. There is no prayer rug in his office, officials said, although he is known to clutch a strand of prayer beads.
Roger was not part of the first wave of CIA operatives deployed after the Sept. 11 attacks, and he never served in any of the agency’s “black sites,” where al-Qaeda prisoners were held and subjected to harsh interrogation techniques.
But in subsequent years, he was given a series of high-profile assignments, including chief of operations for the CTC, chief of station in Cairo, and the top agency post in Baghdad at the height of the Iraq war.
Along the way, he has clashed with high-ranking figures, including David H. Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, who at times objected to the CIA’s more pessimistic assessments of those wars. Former CIA officials said the two had to patch over their differences when Petraeus became CIA director.
“No officer in the agency has been more relentless, focused, or committed to the fight against al-Qaeda than has the chief of the Counterterrorism Center,” Petraeus said in a statement provided to The Post.
Harsh, profane demeanor
By 2006, the campaign against al-Qaeda was foundering. Military and intelligence resources had been diverted to Iraq. The CIA’s black sites had been exposed, and allegations of torture would force the agency to shut down its detention and interrogation programs. Meanwhile, the Pakistani government was arranging truces with tribal leaders that were allowing al-Qaeda to regroup.
Inside agency headquarters, a bitter battle between then-CTC chief Robert Grenier and the head of the clandestine service, Jose Rodriguez, was playing out. Rodriguez regarded Grenier as too focused on interagency politics, while Grenier felt forced to deal with issues such as the fate of the interrogation program and the CIA prisoners at the black sites. Resources in Pakistan were relatively scarce: At times, the agency had only three working Predator drones.
In February that year, Grenier was forced out. Rodriguez “wanted somebody who would be more ‘hands on the throttle,’ ” said a former CIA official familiar with the decision. Roger was given the job and, over time, the resources, to give the throttle a crank.
Grenier declined to comment.
Stylistically, Grenier and Roger were opposites. Grenier gave plaques and photos with dignitaries prominent placement in his office, while Roger eschewed any evidence that he had a life outside the agency. Once, when someone gave him a cartoon sketch of himself — the kind you can buy from sidewalk vendors — he crumpled it up and threw it away, according to a former colleague, saying, “I don’t like depictions of myself.”
His main addition to the office was a hideaway bed.
From the outset, Roger seemed completely absorbed by the job — arriving for work before dawn to read operational cables from overseas and staying well into the night, if he left at all. His once-pudgy physique became almost cadaverous. Although he had quit smoking a decade or so earlier, his habit returned full strength.
He could be profane and brutal toward subordinates, micromanaging operations, second-guessing even the smallest details of plans, berating young analysts for shoddy work. “This is the worst cable I’ve ever seen,” was a common refrain.
Given his attention to operational detail, Roger is seen by some as culpable for one of the agency’s most tragic events — the deaths of seven CIA employees at the hands of a suicide bomber who was invited to a meeting at a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, in December 2009.
An internal review concluded that the assailant, a Jordanian double-agent who promised breakthrough intelligence on al-Qaeda leaders, had not been fully vetted, and it cited failures of “management oversight.” But neither Roger nor other senior officers were mentioned by name.
One of those killed, Jennifer Matthews, was a highly regarded analyst and protege of Roger’s who had been installed as chief of the base despite a lack of operational experience overseas. A person familiar with the inquiry said that “the CTC chief’s selection of [Matthews] was one of a great number of things one could point to that were weaknesses in the way the system operated.”
Khost represented the downside of the agency’s desperation for new ways to penetrate al-Qaeda, an effort that was intensified under President Obama.
Roger’s connection to Khost and his abrasive manner may have cost him — he has been passed over for promotions several times, including for the job he is thought to have wanted most: director of the National Clandestine Service, which is responsible for all CIA operations overseas.
‘A new flavor of activity’