WASHINGTON — CIA Director Porter Goss resigned unexpectedly Friday, leaving behind a spy agency still battling to recover from the scars of intelligence failures before America’s worst terrorist attack and faulty information that formed the U.S. rationale for invading Iraq.
Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, top deputy to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, is the leading candidate to replace Goss, a senior Bush administration official said late Friday. An announcement could come as early as Monday.
Hayden served as National Security Agency director until becoming the nation's No. 2 intelligence official one year ago.
Since December, Hayden has aggressively defended the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program. He was one of its chief architects.
Others talked about as possible candidates to replace Goss were Bush’s homeland security adviser, Frances Fragos Townsend; David Shedd, chief of staff to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte; and Mary Margaret Graham, Negroponte’s deputy for intelligence collection.
Friday's announcement was the latest in a series of moves by President Bush to shake up his team and reinvigorate his second term.
Neither Bush nor Goss offered a reason for his departure.
Making the announcement from the Oval Office, Bush called Goss’ tenure one of transition.
“He has led ably,” Bush said, Goss at his side. “He has a five-year plan to increase the analysts and operatives.”
Goss said the trust, confidence and latitude that Bush placed in him “is something I could have never imagined.”
“I believe the agency is on a very even keel, sailing well,” Goss said. “I honestly believe that we have improved dramatically.”
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The president said Goss’ replacement would continue his reforms.
“As a result, this country will be more secure,” Bush said. “We’ve got to win the war on terror, and the Central Intelligence Agency is a vital part of the war. So I thank you for your service.”
Focus on intelligence reform
When Bush nominated Goss in August 2004, in the midst of the president’s re-election campaign, he said he would rely on the advice of the CIA officer-turned-politician on the sensitive issue of intelligence reform.
“He knows the CIA inside and out,” Bush said in a Rose Garden announcement at the time. “He’s the right man to lead this important agency at this critical moment in our nation’s history.”
Goss, a former congressman from Florida, head of the House Intelligence Committee and CIA agent, had been at the helm of the agency only since September 2004.
He came under fire almost immediately, in part because he brought with him several top aides from Congress who were considered highly political for the CIA.
He had particularly poor relations with segments of the agency’s powerful clandestine service. In a bleak assessment, California Rep. Jane Harman, the Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, recently said, “The CIA is in a free fall,” noting that employees with a combined 300 years of experience have left or been pushed out.
Among those Goss pushed out during his tenure were the deputy director of intelligence, the chief of the clandestine service, two deputy chiefs of the clandestine service, the chief of the directorate of intelligence, the director of the counterterrorism center and the comptroller, according to NBC News.
Under Goss and the sweeping intelligence overhaul Congress approved in December 2004, the CIA lost considerable clout among U.S. spy agencies. With the installation of the country’s first national intelligence director, John Negroponte, Goss no longer sat atop the 16 intelligence agencies. Negroponte took that role — and many of the CIA director’s responsibilities. That includes Bush’s morning intelligence briefings.
Publicly admitted feeling overwhelmed
Goss also had some public blunders. In March 2005, just before Negroponte took over, Goss told an audience at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library that he was overwhelmed by the many duties of his job, including devoting five hours out of every day to prepare for and deliver the presidential briefings.
“The jobs I’m being asked to do, the five hats that I wear, are too much for this mortal,” Goss said. “I’m a little amazed at the workload.”
Goss has pressed for aggressive probes about leaked information.
“The damage has been very severe to our capabilities to carry out our mission,” he told Congress in February, adding that a federal grand jury should be impaneled to determine “who is leaking this information.”
Just two weeks ago, Goss announced the firing of a top intelligence analyst in connection with a Pulitzer Prize-winning story about a network of CIA prisons in Eastern Europe. Such dismissals are highly unusual.
Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., said Goss’ resignation was good news. “His management style has been wrecking the country’s most important intelligence agency,” Obey said. “I hope that whoever is selected to take his place will rebuild agency morale and competence.”
Negroponte, with the backing of the White House, raised with Goss the prospect that he should leave, and the two talked about that possibility, a senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to provide a fuller account of what happened.
Bush aides have been looking for ways to rescue his presidency from sagging poll ratings and difficulties with the Iraq war and his agenda in Congress.
Shake-up started with chief of staff
The shake-up began with the resignation of Andrew Card as chief of staff and his replacement by Joshua Bolten.
Other changes have included the replacement of press secretary Scott McClellan with Fox News commentator Tony Snow. The move means that an experienced conservative television personality, who at times has been critical of the president, is the public face of the White House.
McClellan’s last briefing at the White House was Friday. His final day isn’t until next week, but the president is traveling in Florida the first part of the week, meaning McClellan would brief from the road.
Bush political aide Karl Rove kept his deputy chief of staff title, but was stripped of day-to-day oversight of policy coordination. That job was given to Joel Kaplan, Bolten’s former No. 2 when he was budget director. Bush also named Rob Portman, a former six-term Republican congressman from Ohio who now serves as U.S. trade representative, to replace Bolten at the head of the Office of Management and Budget.
The vacant job of domestic policy adviser has not yet filled.
Other changes that have been expected included changes in the White House lobbying shop run by Candida Wolff and the expected departure of communications chief Nicolle Wallace, whose husband recently moved to New York. Officials have also done little to discourage speculation that Treasury Secretary John Snow is leaving.
NBC News’ Robert Windrem contributed to this report.