When former CIA Director George Tenet said his farewells at a two-hour ceremony this summer, a deputy noted that 40 percent of the agency’s staff had worked for just one chief.
It was a symbol of Tenet’s endurance, seven years on the job, the second longest tenure of a director. It also was a mark of agency’s growth during a hiring spree that began in 1998 and accelerated after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
With Tenet’s successor, former Rep. Porter Goss, in charge and making changes, one of the longer periods of leadership stability in the CIA’s 57-year history is ending.
In an e-mail this month, Goss told employees of his plans for new procedures, organization and senior personnel. He reminded them that the CIA is a “secret agency,” indirectly addressing media leaks widely believed to have angered the White House. Goss also said he intends to clarify “beyond doubt the rules of the road.”
At least five top officials already have left the CIA since Goss took over.
There are those who view Goss’ early moves as a purge. They worry that the Florida Republican who led the House Intelligence Committee until August is bringing a partisan background to an agency that traditionally has tried to avoid politics.
Others see the transition as welcome change for an agency criticized for major intelligence failures, including missing clues before Sept. 11 and botching the prewar analysis on Iraq’s weapons.
Former intelligence officials, both supportive and critical of Goss, say his situation is reminiscent of when Stansfield Turner took over the agency in 1977 or John Deutsch in 1995. Both made waves.
Deutsch inherited an embattled CIA, struggling with the Aldrich Ames spy scandal and disoriented by the dissolution of its antagonist, the Soviet Union. Deutsch brought with him aides from the Pentagon, many of whom managed to rub the CIA’s establishment the wrong way.
Turner took over after a series of commissions found the CIA had kept files on U.S. citizens, directly plotted assassinations of heads of government and engaged in other abuses of power. The admiral brought in aides from the Navy, who some say were perceived as adversaries of the agency’s career staff.
A 'rough transition'
Goss has surrounded himself with close advisers from the House committee who have become embroiled in the recent turmoil at the CIA.
In an interview, Turner said Goss could not have come in without wanting to make changes.
While Turner gives Goss the benefit of the doubt, he questions how Goss and his aides are going about the transition.
“They seem to be a little ham-handed,” Turner said. “That is, I think it would have been advisable for him and his team to take a little while and get to know the place.”
To Richard Kerr, a former CIA deputy director who led the agency’s internal review of the Iraq analysis for Tenet, “It has been a fairly rough transition so far.”
Kerr and other officials are surprised about how public a series of high-profile retirements has been since Goss took over. Not all were happy partings, and it is unclear whether officials left voluntarily.
The undercover heads of the Europe and Far East divisions are stepping down.
The top two officials in the agency’s Directorate of Operations, the clandestine service, left after conflicts with Goss’ aides that came into the open when they were leaked to the media.
Goss’ deputy director, John McLaughlin, who had been acting director, announced his retirement after a 32-year career. Goss has told agency employees he is working on recommending a replacement to President Bush.
On Wednesday, in an editorial in The Washington Post, McLaughlin urged “balance and thoughtfulness” in the discussion of intelligence changes. He said criticisms of the CIA as dysfunctional are “way out of line.”
“Like the U.S. military, our nation’s intelligence officers face daunting challenges now and for years to come,” McLaughlin wrote. “Constructive criticism can help. Tirades and hyperbole will not.”
Eugene Poteat, president of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, said much of the current situation stems from mistakes on Iraq intelligence estimates, which he said by nature are best guesses.
“If you look at it objectively from the outside, if John McLaughlin was part of the team that made the wrong analysis, maybe he should retire. Maybe that is what the president and Porter Goss thought,” Poteat said.
Attention is turning to changes Goss will make at the agency’s other leading section, the Directorate of Intelligence, which is headed by Jami Miscik. A friend and colleague of McLaughlin’s, she was heavily involved in the Iraq analysis.
Democrats fear 'politicization'
Goss’ moves also are under scrutiny by Democratic lawmakers.
Some were dismayed by a line in Goss’ recent e-mail to agency personnel that said the CIA’s job is to “support the administration.” The CIA said that should not be interpreted to mean support the administration politically, but rather support it with intelligence.
In a letter to Goss, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she feared the “politicization of our intelligence services.”