Washington (CNN) -- The man who oversaw the CIA's counterterrorism efforts in Pakistan will now be in charge of the agency's spy operations.
John Bennett, one of the CIA's most experienced spies, was named Wednesday by Director Leon Panetta to be the next head of the National Clandestine Service. He replaces Michael Sulick, who is retiring after three years in the job.
Bennett joined the agency in 1981 and spent most of his career overseas. He served four tours as a station chief, including a recent assignment in Islamabad. While in Pakistan, Bennett was in charge of the intensified effort to use unmanned aircraft to fire missiles at suspected terrorists. Some high-profile terrorists were killed by drone strikes during his tenure, including Baitullah Mehsud, the long-time leader of the Pakistan Taliban.
"John has impeccable credentials at the very core of intelligence operations -- espionage, covert action, and liaison," Panetta said in a written statement. "He has been at the forefront of the fight against al Qaeda and its violent allies."
Panetta also paid tribute to the service of Sulick, citing his successes against terrorists, weapons proliferators and rogue states.
"He has guided complex operations under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable," Panetta's statement said.
Sulick was one of several senior officers forced out of the CIA in 2004 after a confrontation with aides to then-Director Porter Goss. Goss' successor, Mike Hayden, asked Sulick to return to the CIA in 2007 to head up covert operations.
From CNN's Pam Benson