U.S counterterrorism chief to step down after 3 years on the job

Washington — Top U.S. counterterrorism official Christy Abizaid will step down next month as director of the National Counterterrorism Center, or NCTC, after three years in the role, U.S. officials confirmed on Wednesday.

She will be replaced by Brett Holmgren, the current director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, or INR, the State Department’s intelligence arm. Holmgren will serve as acting director. 

In a statement, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said of the moves: “Christy Abizaid is an extraordinary leader who is not only incredibly effective but principled, courageous, and kind. We will miss her, but we are beyond fortunate to have Brett Holmgren taking on the leadership of NCTC — another truly exceptional leader in the counterterrorism field and a distinguished member of the IC leadership team.”

Abizaid became the first woman and the first openly gay person to lead the NCTC after being confirmed to the role in June 2021. She began her career at the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Joint Intelligence Task Force Combating Terrorism and held senior analytic roles in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Division and Middle East Division, deploying to the region several times. 

Christine Abizaid, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, speaks during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023.
Christine Abizaid, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, speaks during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Housed in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the NCTC serves as the government’s lead counterterrorism analysis hub, housing data on known and suspected terrorists and working across American agencies, including the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.   

“Our primary role is to connect the dots, to live in the seams and to look across the information that we have to be able to discern when a threat is coming our way,” Abizaid said in a 2022 interview on CBS News’ “Intelligence Matters” podcast, now produced by Beacon Global Strategies. “And so transnational linkages, searching for transnational linkages, figuring out ways to disrupt those transnational linkages — that’s our bread and butter.”

The NCTC was stood up in the aftermath of 9/11 and celebrates its 20th anniversary in August. Abizaid said last month at a security conference in Doha, Qatar, that the center was more relevant than ever as it operates in an “elevated global threat environment.”

Holmgren was a counterterrorism analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency early in his career, later working as a senior analyst at the CIA and serving as counterterrorism director at the National Security Council during the Obama administration. 

At the State Department, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Lisa Kenna, who served most recently as U.S. Ambassador to Peru and joined INR in September of 2023, will serve as the Bureau’s acting director. 

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