WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama’s choice to replace David Petraeus, who resigned over an adulterous affair, could shift balance between drones and traditional intelligence practices, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

The newspaper said the spy agency officials are watching to see whether the president’s pick signals even a modest adjustment in the main counterterrorism programme he kept: the use of armed drones to kill suspected extremists.

The list of possible replacements is led by three CIA veterans who have all contributed to the agency’s pronounced shift toward paramilitary operations, the Post said. Obama’s choice could determine whether the trajectory continues or begins to taper off.

White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, 57, is seen by many as the leading candidate for the CIA job. In recent months, he has expressed concern within the administration that the agency has become too focused on targeted killings, even though he has presided over the sharp expansion of the drone campaign under Obama.

The other potential nominees include acting CIA Director Michael Morell, 54, who is regarded as a stabilizing presence more than a proponent of change, and Michael Vickers, 59, a senior Pentagon official who is considered the most ardent supporter of the agency’s expanded paramilitary role.

US officials said Obama hasn’t signaled his choice or even when that decision might come. But senior lawmakers and agency veterans said the next director will face immediate pressure to improve intelligence gathering in places beyond those patrolled by drones.

“I think this is the time for transition,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the Post. Counterterrorism will remain the agency’s top priority, Ms. Feinstein said, but the recent attack on US compounds in Libya and mounting concerns about cyber conflicts underscore other vulnerabilities. “We have to strengthen human intelligence in key areas,” Feinstein said, “and transition from the kind of Pakistan-Afghanistan intelligence gathering” that has dominated the agency’s agenda since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Former agency officials, including those who worked in counterterrorism, cited similar concerns over the need for a balance between paramilitary operations and intelligence collection and analysis.

“As much as there remains a terrorism threat, that can’t be the preoccupation of the director of CIA 99 percent of the time anymore,” said Bruce Riedel, a former agency analyst and adviser to Obama. The fundamental question for Obama, Riedel said, is: “Should the agency be looking to be the principal player in a global drone war versus its more traditional role as the principal collector and analyst of foreign intelligence?”

CIA officials, the report pointed out, have argued in recent years that the agency can do both without erosion in the quality of its analytic work on other subjects. Before his resignation, Petraeus had made adjustments to CIA deployments overseas to bolster its presence in Africa and the Middle East, officials said.

Although Petraeus’s sudden departure stunned the agency’s workforce, current and former US officials said the impact was muted by the retired general’s relatively short tenure and a perception that he struggled to connect with the rank and file, the report said.

“I think Petraeus never really caught on,” said a longtime CIA officer who met regularly with Petraeus. “People are sympathetic. I don’t know that there’s a whole lot of mourning.”

The agency has grown accustomed to sudden departures from a job that doesn’t come with a fixed term like its FBI counterpart, it said. Obama now faces the task of filling the position for the third time since he became president, a turnover rate that exceeds any other slot on his national security team.

Morell is in his second stint as acting director, after serving in that capacity for several months after Leon Panetta left to run the Pentagon and before Petraeus arrived last year.

A career intelligence analyst, Morell is known for a sharp mind and smooth presence in meetings at the White House or on Capitol Hill.