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Goss’s CIA still in turmoil

When Porter J. Goss took over a failure-stained CIA last year, he promised to reshape the agency beginning with the area he knew best: its famed spy division. A year later, Goss is at loggerheads with the clandestine service he sought to embrace.
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When Porter J. Goss took over a failure-stained CIA last year, he promised to reshape the agency beginning with the area he knew best: its famed spy division.

Goss, himself a former covert operative who had chaired the House intelligence committee, focused on the officers in the field. He pledged status and resources for case officers, sending hundreds more to far-off assignments, undercover and on the front line of the battle against al Qaeda.

A year later, Goss is at loggerheads with the clandestine service he sought to embrace. At least a dozen senior officials -- several of whom were promoted under Goss -- have resigned, retired early or requested reassignment. The directorate's second-in-command walked out of Langley last month and then told senators in a closed-door hearing that he had lost confidence in Goss's leadership.

The turmoil has left some employees shaken and has prompted former colleagues in Congress to question how Goss intends to improve the agency's capabilities and restore morale. The White House is aware of the problems, administration officials said, and believes they are being handled by the director of national intelligence, who now oversees the agency.

But the Senate intelligence committee, which generally took testimony once a year from Goss's predecessors, has invited him for an unusual closed-door hearing today. Senators, according to their staff, intend to ask the former congressman from Florida to explain why the CIA is bleeding talent at a time of war, and to answer charges that the agency is adrift.

"Hundreds of years of leadership and experience has walked out the door in the last year," said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), "and more senior people are making critical career decisions as we speak."

On a recent visit to a large CIA station in the Middle East, Harman, the ranking Democrat on the same House intelligence panel where Goss once presided, said she asked for a show of hands from those who understood where Goss was leading the agency. "The vast majority didn't know, and they are worried," Harman said in a telephone interview during her trip.

Low morale
Some of the struggles that have dominated Goss's first year stem from a massive reorganization that stripped the CIA of its leadership role in the intelligence community and made it subservient to a new director of national intelligence. Congress ordered the shake-up after several public investigations blamed the CIA for failing to detect the 9/11 plot and erring in assessments of Iraq's weapons. The probes crippled morale inside the deeply secretive agency. Goss's staff says he is confident he can reshape the CIA and, despite persistent rumors, he has no intention of resigning. "Director Goss loves his job and is dedicated to the CIA team and his vision of modernizing and strengthening our numbers and capabilities across the board," his spokeswoman, Jennifer Millerwise Dyck, said. "He wants to see that through."

Several moves in recent weeks indicate Goss is trying to address the ill will, which has becoming increasingly public, between his office and career officials at the CIA.

He held an agency-wide meeting to discuss staff concerns last month and later announced that he would not seek to punish career analysts whose poor performances had been singled out in a classified and internal review of the agency's work leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "Risk is a critical part of the intelligence business," Goss said in a public statement that championed the CIA's successes. "Singling out these individuals would send the wrong message to our junior officers about taking risks." The statement went a long way to quell some of the unhappiness, officials said in interviews.

Harman's Republican counterpart argues that Goss needs to make significant changes, including among personnel, if the agency is to rebuild. "It's going to be very hard to get the change you need if you keep all the same players," said Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the committee chairman. "Yes, the agency needs to have good morale, but they need to have the right people in the right jobs, and I think that is exactly where Porter is moving to."

Taking over the agency at a turbulent time in its history would not have been an easy task for anyone. It was particularly difficult for Goss, an eight-term congressman who was close to the White House and who became fiercely critical of the CIA.

Shortly before he was nominated for the job, Goss co-authored a scathing indictment of the agency and its popular director, George Tenet. In a letter to the agency in May 2004, Goss and several congressional colleagues focused particular wrath on the clandestine service and human intelligence.

"After years of trying to convince, suggest, urge, entice, cajole, and pressure CIA to make wide-reaching changes to the way it conducts its HUMINT mission," the CIA "continues down a road leading over a proverbial cliff. The damage to the HUMINT mission through its misallocation and redirection of resources, poor prioritization of objectives, micromanagement of field operations, and a continued political aversion to operational risk is, in the Committee's judgment, significant and could likely be long-lasting."

Difficult time
Goss declined to be interviewed. But some of his close allies say the letter, which they believe he regrets in tone, if not substance, has haunted his first year and accounts for much of the strain between Goss and the clandestine service. "The letter is a pretty clear indication that he didn't expect to get the job," one official said.

Goss, who turns 67 in November, had been preparing to retire from public service and spend more time on a family farm in Virginia when he was asked by Vice President Cheney to stay on as House intelligence chairman after the 2001 attacks. When Tenet resigned in the summer of 2004, Goss was nominated to succeed the longest-serving director in CIA history.

At the time, Congress was working through details of a dramatic refashioning of the bureaucratic landscape, in which a new intelligence czar would oversee not just the CIA but also all intelligence offices in the U.S. government. Goss did not know whether he would eventually become the new director of national intelligence or end up focusing solely on the CIA.

"Porter took over the agency at an extremely difficult time, when his job was going to change fundamentally and the agency's role in the community was going to change," said Mark Lowenthal, a senior manager hired by Tenet. He left the CIA six months into Goss's term; the two have remained friends. "It was a hard time to become director," he said.

Goss divided his attention between the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community. In March, President Bush chose as DNI John D. Negroponte, a career foreign service officer and ambassador in Iraq. Negroponte's office is still taking shape, and it is unclear how much control he will exert over the CIA.

But the days of an all-powerful CIA director who reports exclusively to the president are over. Goss no longer has daily access to the Oval Office -- Negroponte is now responsible for briefing the president -- and Goss must coordinate all decisions with Negroponte's office.

From critic to champion
Through memos and the recent staff meeting, Goss has tried to assure employees that he has made the transition from critic to champion and that the CIA will remain the country's preeminent intelligence-gathering agency. "CIA is the gold standard when it comes to human intelligence collection," he told the staff in a recent agency-wide meeting.

Among his top priorities is getting spies in the field to work more independently and to rely less on complicated relationships with foreign intelligence services. Some veterans have interpreted that push as either a disinterest in working with others or a rejection of a collection method that is highly valued inside the clandestine service. But Goss believes the agency has leaned too heavily, sometimes to its detriment, on faulty information gleaned from others.

Goss, who served as a CIA operative in Latin America in the 1960s, is also eager to reopen stations there so the agency is prepared when conflicts arise in otherwise quiet areas. That desire has been welcomed even by his critics, but some argue it is still too early in the struggle with al Qaeda to begin moving resources elsewhere.

"The CIA is like a lot of other bureaucracies," said former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), a friend of Goss. "They don't like change and are somewhere between resistant and noncooperative."

In one of his first moves, Goss eliminated a daily 5 p.m. meeting on terrorism, attended by dozens of specialist inside the agency to better coordinate information on al Qaeda. Instead, he asked to be briefed on the subject three times a week in a more intimate setting.

For Goss, the new format worked better, but the abrupt change stirred dissent and suspicion in the agency.

A work trip to picturesque Slovenia had similar consequences. The trip raised eyebrows, from the spy division to the legal department, officials said, because Goss, an avid organic farmer, arranged for one meeting to take place at a local organic farm.

More reserved style
There is also a perception among some at the agency that Goss and his staff are not as engaged as Tenet, a gregarious New Yorker who roamed the halls, chatting up analysts and putting in 16-hour days at headquarters.

Goss's style is more reserved, and his aides said his days are just as long. But not all his work is conducted from behind his desk. "He begins every day with an intelligence update briefing prior to his arrival at the agency," his spokeswoman said. "He has meetings throughout the day; some are at Langley, some are downtown. Some days he stays very late, but every day is different."

In March, Goss complained during a speech that his job was overwhelming and that he was surprised by the number of hours it demanded. "The White House wasn't amused by that," one intelligence community official said. Then in June, Goss told Time magazine that he had "an excellent idea" where Osama bin Laden was but that the United States could not get him because of diplomatic sensitivities. This time, the White House and the State Department publicly disputed the remarks.

In a now-infamous e-mail to overseas station chiefs, Goss said appointments with visiting intelligence chiefs should be arranged for Tuesdays or Thursdays. The memo was apparently meant to assure station chiefs that he was setting aside extra time for important visits, but it bewildered officers in the field.

He eventually corrected the memo but has developed a reputation inside the agency, and out, for being unavailable.

A brain drain
When Goss arrived at the CIA in September 2004 with four GOP aides from Capitol Hill in tow, he was accused of bringing a Republican agenda to an agency that has long sought to distance itself from partisan politics. Personality clashes erupted between his staff and career officials, leading to two high-profile resignations in the clandestine service within six weeks.

Hoping to quell fears that the posts would be filled with political allies, Goss quickly promoted from within. But he has had difficulty retaining senior leaders. Most of those departing are doing so on their own initiative, not Goss's.

In the clandestine service alone, known as the "Directorate of Operations," Goss has lost one director, two deputy directors, and at least a dozen department heads, station chiefs and division directors -- many with the key language skills and experience he has said the agency needs.

"He obviously has a problem with the D.O.," said one ally in the intelligence community who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Some officials resigned in frustration with Goss or his staff; others took early retirement or arranged transfers out of the CIA. Robert Richer, the No. 2 official in the D.O., announced his resignation last month, then shared his concerns about Goss with the Senate intelligence panel.

Shortly afterward, the head of the European division, whose key and undercover role includes overseeing the hunt for al Qaeda on the continent, surprised his staff by announcing his own departure. Equally surprising to some was his destination: the Energy Department's office of intelligence, a small and specialized analytic shop concentrating on nuclear technology. For an operator of his seniority, the career choice was seen as highly unusual.

Goss tried to calm the waters with a town-hall-style meeting on Sept. 23 in the agency's white-domed auditorium, known as "the bubble." He focused again on the need for better and more independent spy work. But the message, one year after he was sworn in, fell short of at least some expectations.

"With all due respect," one junior officer told Goss during the question-and-answer session that followed, "it was a vanilla speech." Another officer asked about Richer's departure and sought assurances that others would stay. "Goss responded fully and made clear the future of the directorate is bright," his spokeswoman said.