Court-supervised mediation has collapsed between the CIA and a group of current and former employees who allege that the agency has violated their right to private counsel, clearing the way for further litigation on the issue.
The case has the potential to become a throbbing legal headache for Langley, which has tried -- and failed -- to have the lawsuit thrown out of court.
Roy W. Krieger, an aggressive former Justice Department attorney, said he now represents more than 20 current and former employees who claim their right to counsel in internal disciplinary matters -- from failed polygraph examinations to disputed performance reviews -- has been impeded by the CIA.
What's more, Krieger said he intends to ask U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina to certify the case as a class action, so any current or former employee who has ever retained or tried to retain private counsel for work-related representation could become eligible to join.
Krieger filed suit on behalf of seven current and former employees almost two years ago but agreed last year at Urbina's suggestion to go to mediation. The talks broke down late last month.
"It's unfortunate that we were unable to reach a negotiated settlement, but not necessarily surprising, given the magnitude of reforms the plaintiffs are seeking," Krieger said.
While many of Krieger's clients will be identified only by initials or pseudonyms, one identified by name is John Spinelli, a former operations officer wounded in Somalia supporting U.N. peacekeepers in 1993. Spinelli claims the CIA refused to give his lawyer access to medical and personnel records needed to pursue a claim for disability compensation.
CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield declined to comment on the case, but said agency employees can freely consult with private attorneys on internal personnel matters.
INTELLIGENCE REFORM: Never bashful, former CIA case officer and open-source guru Robert D. Steele has taken his crusade for intelligence reform directly to the White House, telling President Bush in a recent letter that he is being ill-served by an intelligence community obsessed with secrets.
"Our secret intelligence community is spending $30 billion a year focusing on the 5 percent of the information they can steal, while ignoring the 95 percent of the relevant information that is not online, not in English, and yet vital and very relevant to your strategic decisions," Steele wrote.
Deputy CIA Director John E. McLaughlin said yesterday during an online session at washingtonpost.com that the CIA does, indeed, like to obtain secret information. "But we do also fully integrate open source information into our work and appreciate the contribution it makes," he said.
McLaughlin also said that "most of our major papers now benefit from being read and critiqued by outside experts from the academic, business or think-tank world -- a recognition on our part that in today's world we do not have the market cornered on wisdom."
Steele responded in an interview that desktop Internet access is a far cry from having a corps of analysts who are trained to find open information in many languages from many sources.
"The problem with spies," Steele said, "is they only know secrets. In the information age, the center of gravity for national security is knowledge power, but the U.S. has an industrial-era spy system."
CIA ABUZZ: The CIA's new executive director, A.B. "Buzzy" Krongard, minced no words yesterday as he addressed a standing room only crowd of senior managers inside the "bubble" auditorium at agency headquarters.
The flamboyant former investment banker, Marine officer and martial arts enthusiast promised to be an "agent of change" and offered what he called a simple "mantra": "Country, first; agency, second; individual person, or component, last."
Krongard also imparted four "observations":
"1. Work first on being respected, not on being liked. You are here to do a job, not to win a popularity contest. It is far more important that your people respect you than that they like you.
"2. Extend yourself for your co-professionals; be the best partner you can be in every endeavor. When the stabbing starts, the blood spatters everyone.
"3. Be candid and conservative. Don't talk in euphemisms. Always deliver more than you promise and be 'up front' with the bad news.
"4. Avoid cherry picking -- be ready to help do the dirty jobs as well as the glamour ones."