EN ROUTE TO PERTH, AUSTRALIA — Retired Gen. David Petraeus made the right decision to resign as CIA director amid revelations that he had an affair with his biographer, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday.

“It was a very sad situation, to have a distinguished career like that end in this manner,” said Panetta, who has also served as CIA director. “But I think he took the right step. And I think it’s important, when you’re director of the CIA, with all the challenges that face you, that personal integrity comes first and foremost.”

Now, he said, the CIA must stay the course and not get distracted by the scandal.

“They have a very important mission focused on intelligence and intelligence operations, and I think it’s very important to get someone strong and capable and dedicated to be able to continue that effort,” Panetta said. “This is a critical time to make sure that with all the threats we’re dealing with in the world, that we maintain a strong intelligence operation.”

Petraeus announced his resignation Friday.

The timing has come under fire — particularly from members of Congress, who have asked why they weren’t told before the election. The FBI had been investigating Petraeus for several weeks. He was scheduled to testify to Congress about the Benghazi attacks this week.

Panetta did not directly address the timing but said there is a responsibility to ensure that the “intelligence committees are informed of issues that could affect the security of those intelligence operations.”

Twitter: @jhlad

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now