The deputy director of the CIA resigned yesterday after a series of confrontations over the past week between senior operations officials and CIA Director Porter J. Goss's new chief of staff that have left the agency in turmoil, according to several current and former CIA officials.
John E. McLaughlin, a 32-year CIA veteran who was acting director for two months this summer until Goss took over, resigned after warning Goss that his top aide, former Capitol Hill staff member Patrick Murray, was treating senior officials disrespectfully and risked widespread resignations, the officials said.
Yesterday, the agency official who oversees foreign operations, Deputy Director of Operations Stephen R. Kappes, tendered his resignation after a confrontation with Murray. Goss and the White House pleaded with Kappes to reconsider and he agreed to delay his decision until Monday, the officials said.
Several other senior clandestine service officers are threatening to leave, current and former agency officials said.
The disruption comes as the CIA is trying to stay abreast of a worldwide terrorist threat from al Qaeda, a growing insurgency in Iraq, the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan and congressional proposals to reorganize the intelligence agencies. The agency also has been criticized for not preventing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and not accurately assessing Saddam Hussein's ability to produce weapons of mass destruction.
"It's the worst roiling I've ever heard of," said one former senior official with knowledge of the events. "There's confusion throughout the ranks and an extraordinary loss of morale and incentive."
Current and retired senior managers have criticized Goss, former chairman of the House intelligence committee, for not interacting with senior managers and for giving Murray too much authority over day-to-day operations. Murray was Goss's chief of staff on the intelligence committee.
Transitions between CIA directors are often unsettling for career officers. Goss's arrival has been especially tense because he brought with him four former members of the intelligence committee known widely on the Hill and within the agency for their abrasive management style and for their criticism of the agency's clandestine services in a committee report.
Three are former mid-level CIA officials who left the agency disgruntled, according to former colleagues. The fourth, Murray, who also worked at the Justice Department, has a reputation for being highly partisan. When senior managers have gone to Goss to complain about his staff actions, one CIA officer said, Goss has told them: "Talk to my chief of staff. I don't do personnel."
The overall effect, said one former senior CIA official, who has kept up his contacts in the Directorate of Operations, "is that Goss doesn't seem engaged at all."
If other senior clandestine officers leave, said one former officer who maintains contacts within the Langley headquarters, "the middle-level people who move up may eventually work out, but meanwhile the level of experience and competence will go down."
The CIA declined to comment on the issues raised by the current and former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. A CIA spokesman said McLaughlin's retirement "was a long-planned personal decision taken at a natural transition point in the administration and not connected to any other factors."
McLaughlin issued a statement that said: "I have come to the purely personal decision that it is time to move on to other endeavors."
Goss, too, issued a statement, which applauded McLaughlin's "outstanding service."