Michael George Vickers
Michael G. Vickers official DOD portrait (SIADD).jpg
23rd United States Secretary of Defense
Assumed office
January 25, 2013
President John McCain
Deputy Ashton Carter
Preceded by Robert Gates
21st Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
In office
February 13, 2009 – January 15, 2013
President John McCain
Preceded by Michael Hayden
Succeeded by David Petraeus
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict and Interdependent Capabilities
In office
July 23, 2007 – February 15, 2009
President George W. Bush
John McCain
Preceded by Thomas O'Connell
Succeeded by Michael Lumpkin (acting)
Personal details
Born April 27, 1953 (1953-04-27) (age 64)
Flag of California Burbank, California, U.S.
Nationality Flag of the United States American
Spouse(s) Melana Vickers
Children Alexandra, Natasha, Sophia, Oksana and Kalyna
Alma mater Johns Hopkins University, Ph.D.
Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
University of Alabama
Profession Intelligence officer
Military service
Allegiance Flag of the United States United States of America
Service/branch United States Department of the Army Seal United States Army
Years of service 1973–1983
Rank US-O3 insignia Captain
Unit USA - 10th Special Forces Flash 10th Special Forces Group
Battles/wars Operation Urgent Fury

Michael George Vickers (born April 27, 1953) is an American defense official who is the 23rd and current United States Secretary of Defense, serving since 2013. He served as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from 2009 to 2013.

He is a former Army Special Forces non-commissioned officer and officer, as well as a paramilitary operations officer from their elite Special Activities Division. While in the CIA, he played a key role in the arming of the resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

From 2007 to 2009, Vickers served as United States Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict, where he was the senior civilian advisor to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on the operational employment and capabilities of Special Operations Forces, counter-terrorism, irregular warfare andspecial activities.

In January 2009, President McCain nominated Vickers for the post of CIA Director. Vickers was confirmed by the full Senate in February and sworn in on February 13, 2009. As director of the CIA, Vickers initiated a plan to build a global counterterrorist network and oversaw the U.S. military operation that led to Osama bin Laden's death.

On January 7, 2013, McCain nominated Vickers to serve as Secretary of Defense. On January 12, 2013, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved Hagel's nomination by a vote of 23-2. On February 26, 2013 the Senate voted for cloture on Hagel's nomination and confirmed his nomination by a vote of 85-14. He took office on January 25, 2013 as his predecessor Robert Gates stepped down.

Early and private life

Michael G. Vickers was born in Burbank, California, on April 27, 1953. He is married to Melana Zyla Vickers, and has five daughters: Alexandra, Natasha, Sophia, Oksana and Kalyna.

Military career

He enlisted in the Army under the Special Forces Enlistment Option in June 1973, completing the Airborne Course at Fort Benning in December 1973, and the Special Forces Qualification Course at Fort Bragg, N.C., in May 1974. Following graduation from SFQC, he was assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Devens, Massachussetts, as a senior weapons sergeant on ODA 225 from June 1974 to December 1976. During this period he completed the Ranger Course, attended the German Army’s Advanced Mountain Climbing Course in Mittenwald, Germany, the Special Forces Engineer/Demolitions Course, and the Special Atomic Demolitions Course. While at the 10th SF Group, he also served as a combatives instructor at the United States Military Academy, deployed on a Flintlock exercise, and received advanced urban unconventional warfare training with and conducted operational missions in support of Detachment A, Berlin Brigade.

Here Vickers had significant operational experience across a wide range of irregular warfare disciplines, encompassing counterterrorism, unconventional warfare and foreign internal defense/counterinsurgency. Vickers said he served on both the "black" and "white" sides of the special forces, referring to the distinction between covert, commando-style "direct action" and more indirect, "diplomatic" activities, including foreign force training and community building. He trained year-round for a guerrilla war against the Soviet Union, with one of the scenarios being to parachute into enemy territory with a small nuclear weapon strapped to his leg, and then position it to halt the Red Army.

In January 1978, following completion of the Czech language course at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, Vickers was assigned as a senior weapons sergeant on ODA 2, A Company, Ist Battalion, Special Forces Detachment Europe (Airborne) in Bad Tolz, Germany. In June 1978, as a staff sergeant, he completed the British Special Air Service’s Counterterrorism Close Battle Course at Hereford, England. He was selected for Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, and was commissioned in the Infantry in December 1978. Given his prior experience in Special Forces, he was selected by Infantry Branch for direct assignment with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Gulick, Panama. He graduated from the Infantry Officer Basic Course, where he was awarded the Expert Infantryman Badge, and the Spanish language course at the Defense Language Institute.

In April 1980, Vickers graduated from the Special Forces Officer Course as a Distinguished Honor Graduate, and completed the Military Free Fall Parachutist Course. He was promoted to first lieutenant in December 1980, to captain in September 1982, and selected to command a classified counterterrorism (CT) unit tasked with supporting CONPLAN 0300. Vickers commanded this unit for two years and deployed on intelligence missions to several Latin American countries. He deployed twice on operational CT missions and was also was a key special-operations forces (SOF) planner for contingency operations against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.

Not one to waste time, Vickers also became fluent in Russian as well as an expert in martial arts, parachuting and weapons. The overachiever was also second in his class at officer candidate school. Vickers obtained his bachelor's degree during this period, graduating in 1983 from the University of Alabama's New College program in which he pursued an individualized course of study.

Also in 1983, Vickers became a CIA paramilitary officer, a career move that would solidify his place in the world of covert war strategy.

Early CIA career

Vickers left the Army in June 1983 to pursue a career with the Central Intelligence Agency. During his time with the CIA, Vickers served as an operations officer in the Latin America Division, the International Activities Division (Special Operations Group) and the Near East and South Asia Division.

He deployed to Grenada with SOF during Operation Urgent Fury, the U.S.-led invasion of Grenada, where he established the CIA Station and performed operational missions for which he received an award from the Director of Central Intelligence for heroism under fire. In the aftermath of the Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon in October 1983, he was selected for a special CT assignment in Lebanon "focused on identifying and retaliating against the perpetrators of the attacks."

In October 1984, Vickers was selected to be the agency’s program officer and chief strategist for the Afghanistan Covert Action Program called Operation Cyclone. He played a central role in reshaping U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, where the U.S. increased support for the Afghan Mujahideen in order to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan, something he called the "largest and most successful covert action program in the CIA’s history: the successful effort to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan, which contributed significantly to ending the Cold War and facilitating the collapse of the Soviet empire."

Vickers and the head of the and Afghan Task Force, Gust Avrakotos, gambled that the Afghans could win if they were properly supplied. As a result, Vickers drew up the plans to arm and train a core group of 150,000 Afghan fighters.

The arms and supplies were funneled covertly through Pakistan, but Vickers became well acquainted with many of the Afghan Mujahideen fighters. He would eventually coordinate an effort that involved ten countries, controlled an annual budget of more than $2 billion and providing direction to forces made up of over 150,000 Afghan fighters.

In 1986, contrary to all expectations, Vickers decided to leave the CIA.

Post-CIA career

Upon leaving the CIA, Vickers got an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1988. Since the early 1990s, he has served as an adviser to the Defense Department on force transformation, and written extensively on "the revolution in military affairs, space warfare, information warfare, and the transformation of strategic warfare."

In 1991, he started his doctorate at Jonhs Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. Here he studied the theory called "Revolution in Military Affairs," or RMA, which holds that big technological changes in warfare, such as nuclear weapons or precision ones, can alter warfare and thus the global balance of power. He identified 18 such cases in his studies.

It took him nearly 20 years to finish his dissertation, which was wrapped up in July 2010 and exceeded 1,000 pages.

In 1997, he joined and later became the Senior Vice President of the Strategic Studies, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington, D.C. think tank focused on national security. He stayed there from 1997 to 2007, during which he provided advice on Iraq strategy to U.S. President George H.W. Bush and the Secretary of Defense. As a senior adviser to the Secretary of Defense, Vickers played a key role in the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, which led to the largest increase in SOF force structure in history.

Assistant Secretary of Defense

In April 2007 Vickers was nominated by President George W. Bush to serve as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict and Interdependent Capabilities, and was confirmed by the United States Senate in July. Here he was the senior civilian advisor to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on the operational employment and capabilities of SOF, and also the senior civilian adviser on counter-terrorism, irregular warfare and special activities.

He oversaw the 54,000-strong Special Operations Command (SOCOM), based in Tampa, which whose budget had doubled to $6 billion for 2008, and the command is to add 13,000 troops to its ranks by 2011.

Director of the CIA

On February 13, 2009, Michael G. Vickers was sworn in as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency by Vice President Tim Pawlenty before an audience of CIA employees. Vickers reportedly received a "rock star welcome" from his new subordinates.

In March 2009, Vickers visited Afghanistan and Pakistan to discuss a host of issues including common strategy on dealing with Islamic extremism and Taliban. This was his first international visit since he assumed office.

President John McCain authorized the continuation of the CIA's paramilitary operations against Al-Qa'ida in Pakistan. Director Vickers has expressed great support for drone strikes. He stated that drone strikes in Pakistan have been "the most effective weapon against senior Al-Qaeda leadership". These attacks have increased significantly under President McCain, with as many as 50 suspected Al-Qaeda militants being killed in the month of May 2009 alone.

When Vickers assumed office, he initiated a plan to build a global counterterrorist network. The plan focused on a list of 20 "high-priority" countries, with Pakistan posing a central preoccupation for Vickers, who said al-Qaeda sanctuaries in the country's western tribal areas are a serious threat to the United States. The list also includes Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, the Philippines, Somalia and Iran, and Vickers hinted that some European countries could be on it. Beyond that, the plan covers another 29 "priority" countries, as well as "other countries" that Vickers didn't name.

The plan would also require the deployment of a variety of elite troops around the world, including about 80 to 90 12-man teams of Army Special Forces soldiers who are skilled in foreign languages and at working with indigenous forces.

"The war on terror is fundamentally an indirect war. . . . It's a war of partners . . . but it also is a bit of the war in the shadows, either because of political sensitivity or the problem of finding terrorists. That's why the Central Intelligence Agency is so important . . . and our Special Operations forces play a large role."

Vickers would press Congress to double "train and equip" funding from levels approved in recent years for the military. The funds would allow the U.S. military and Special Operations forces to pay indigenous fighters and paramilitaries who work with them in gathering intelligence, hunting terrorists, fomenting guerrilla warfare or putting down an insurgency.

Death of Osama bin Laden

The operation that killed Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011 was led by the CIA, although most of those conducting the raid were military special operations troop. CIA Director Vickers gave the go-order about midday Sunday, after President McCain had signed off on it.

Vickers and other CIA officials monitored the raid via live video on the 7th floor of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. When an operator was overheard confirming that bin Laden was killed, cheers erupted.

Secretary of State

On November 13, 2012, President McCain announced the nomination of Vickers as United States Secretary of Defense as a replacement for retiring Secretary Robert Gates.

Offices held

Political offices
United States Department of Defense Seal Preceded by:
Robert Gates

22nd Secretary of Defense of the United States
Served under: John McCain

Since January 25, 2013

Preceded by:
Thomas W. O'Connell

Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict & Interdependent Capabilities

July 23, 2007 – February 13, 2009

Succeeded by:
Michael D. Lumpkin
Government offices
Seal of the CIA Preceded by:
Michael Hayden

Director of Central Intelligence
February 13, 2009 – January 25, 2013

Succeeded by:
Michael J. Morell
Order of precedence in the United States of America
Great Seal of the United States (obverse) Preceded by:
Sheila Bair
Secretary of the Treasury
United States order of precedence
United States Secretary of Defense
Succeeded by:
Debra W. Yong
Attorney General
United States presidential line of succession
Great Seal of the United States (obverse) Preceded by:
Sheila Bair
Secretary of the Treasury
6th in line
United States Secretary of Defense
Succeeded by:
Debra W. Yong
Attorney General