Gary Samore, who is heading to Harvard to become executive director of the Belfer Center, had his last day at the White House on Friday, after serving four years as President Obama’s “WMD czar.”
The White House said no final decision has been made on who will succeed him. Arms control experts said there has been a closely-held short list of three or so prospective candidates under consideration, that narrowed further in recent weeks.
Among the names the Back Channel hears is on the short list is Samore’s top deputy, Laura Holgate. Several diplomatic and arms control expert sources, speaking not for attribution, told the Back Channel they understood that Mark Fitzpatrick, a former State non-proliferation official now in London, may also have been under consideration. He declined to comment. A couple other people mentioned as prospective candidates, contacted by the Back Channel, denied they were in the running and said they were staying put in their current jobs. A White House spokesperson said he could not comment on a prospective appointment before it is officially announced, and wasn’t aware that it had been decided. (Holgate did not respond to a query from the Back Channel Friday.) Another administration official indicated the pick is likely to be a woman, but did not confirm who.
Administration and non-proliferation community sources also suggested that the WMD coordinator post, and the office’s place in the wider White House/NSC org chart, might evolve slightly in Obama’s second term. Among the ideas mentioned as being mulled are possibly changing the lead position from coordinator/”czar” to a deputy national security advisor. There’s also talk of a recruiting a deputy.
Holgate has served as Samore’s principal deputy in the NSC WMD office, having joined the national security staff in 2009 with the title of senior director for weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and threat reduction. In the role, she oversees and coordinates policies to counter nuclear proliferation, secure fissile material, and reduce the risk of WMD threats. Before joining the White House, Holgate served more than 15 years in senior Defense, Energy and NGO posts overseeing programs to secure loose nukes, including as vice president of the Nuclear Threat Initiative; and as the Defense Department special coordinator for cooperative threat reduction, and special assistant to then Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Ash Carter, now Deputy Defense Secretary. .
President Obama has recently said that he is seeking to put more women in prominent administration posts, after his first choice for Secretary of State, UN envoy Susan Rice, bowed out of consideration (though remains in her cabinet-level post), and with the departure from his cabinet of Labor Secretary Hilda Soliz and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton on Friday bid an emotional farewell to cheering crowds of State Department employees who gathered to see her off.
(This post has been updated with additional reporting 4pm ET)