The Fix-It Man Leaves, but The Agency's Cracks Remain

By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 6, 2006

Porter J. Goss was brought into the CIA to quell what the White House viewed as a partisan insurgency against the administration and to re-energize a spy service that failed to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks or accurately assess Iraq's weapons capability.

But as he walked out the glass doors of Langley headquarters yesterday, Goss left behind an agency that current and former intelligence officials say is weaker operationally, with a workforce demoralized by an exodus of senior officers and by uncertainty over its role in fighting terrorism and other intelligence priorities, said current and former intelligence officials.

In public, Goss once acknowledged being "amazed at the workload." Within headquarters, "he never bonded with the workforce," said John O. Brennan, a former senior CIA official and interim director of the National Counterterrorism Center until last July.

"Now there's a decline in morale, its capability has not been optimized and there's a hemorrhaging of very good officers," Brennan said. "Turf battles continue" with other parts of the recently reorganized U.S. intelligence community "because there's a lack of clarity and he had no vision or strategy about the CIA's future." Brennan added: "Porter's a dedicated public servant. He was ill-suited for the job."

As a result of all these factors, said these sources and outside experts who work with the CIA, the number of case officers has skyrocketed, but there has been no dramatic improvement in how spies collect intelligence about terrorist targets.

As important, Goss -- who did not like to travel overseas or to wine and dine foreign intelligence chiefs who visited Washington -- allowed the atrophy of relations with the foreign intelligence services that helped the CIA kill or catch nearly all the terrorists taken off the streets since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, in the view of these officials and several foreign intelligence officials.

Foreign intelligence heads, who used to spend hours with Goss's predecessor, George J. Tenet, discussing strategy and tactics, are now more likely to meet with the director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, whose position was created in the overhaul of U.S. intelligence agencies.

One senior European counterterrorism official, asked recently for his assessment of Goss's leadership, responded by saying, "Who?"

Goss, then the Republican chairman of the House intelligence panel, was handpicked by the White House to purge what some in the administration viewed as a cabal of wily spies working to oppose administration policy in Iraq. "He came in to clean up without knowing what he was going to clean up," one former intelligence official said.

Goss's counterinsurgency campaign was so crudely executed by his top lieutenants, some of them former congressional staffers, that they drove out senior and mid-level civil servants who were unwilling to accept the accusation that their actions were politically motivated, some intelligence officers and outside experts said.

"The agency was never at war with the White House," contended Gary Berntsen, a former operations officer and self-described Republican and Bush supporter who retired in June 2005. "Eighty-five percent of them are Republicans. The CIA was a convenient scapegoat."

Less than two months after Goss took over, the much-respected deputy director of operations, Stephen R. Kappes, and his deputy, Michael Sulick, resigned in protest over a demand by Goss's chief of staff, Patrick Murray, that Kappes fire Sulick for criticizing Murray.

Kappes "was the guy who a generation of us wanted to see as the DDO [operations chief]. Kappes's leaving was a painful thing," Berntsen said. "It made it difficult for [Goss] within the clandestine service. Unfortunately, this is something that dogged him during his tenure."

The confrontation between Murray and the agency's senior leadership continued throughout Goss's tenure, exacerbated by the fact that Goss effectively allowed Murray and other close aides to run the agency, in the view of some current and former intelligence officials. Many agency officials felt the aides showed disdain for officers who had spent their careers in public service.

Four former deputy directors of operations once tried to offer Goss advice about changing the clandestine service without setting off a rebellion, but Goss declined to speak to any of them, said former CIA officials who are aware of the communications. The perception that Goss was conducting a partisan witch hunt grew, too, as staffers asked about the party affiliation of officers who sent in cables or analyses on Iraq that contradicted the Defense Department's more optimistic scenarios.

"Unfortunately, Goss is going to be seen as the guy who oversaw the agency victimized by politics," said Tyler Drumheller, a former chief of the European division. "His tenure saw the greatest loss of operational experience" in the operations division since congressional hearings on CIA domestic spying plunged the agency into crisis, he said.

Though the agency has grown considerably in size and budget in the past four years -- the operations branch has reportedly grown in size by nearly 30 percent -- dozens of officers with more than a decade of field experience each, those who would have been tapped as new staff chiefs or division heads, chose to leave.

Pre-retirement classes, which serve as a transition out of the agency for active-duty officers, are bulging with agency employees.

While the stature and role of the CIA were greatly diminished under Goss during the congressionally ordered reorganization of the intelligence agencies, his counterpart at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, continued his aggressive efforts to develop a clandestine intelligence operation within his department. The Pentagon's human intelligence unit and its other clandestine military units are expanding in number and authority. Rumsfeld recently won the ability to sidestep U.S. ambassadors in certain circumstances when the Pentagon wants to send in clandestine teams to collect intelligence or undertake operations.

"Rumsfeld keeps pressing for autonomy for defense human intelligence and for SOF [Special Forces] operations," said retired Army Col. W. Patrick Lang, former head of Middle East affairs at the Defense Intelligence Agency. "CIA has lost the ability to control the [human intelligence] process in the community."

Now, "the real battle lies between" Negroponte and Rumsfeld, said retired Army Lt. Gen. Donald Kerrick, a former deputy national security adviser and once a senior official at the Defense Intelligence Agency. "Rumsfeld rules the roost now."

Staff writer Thomas E. Ricks and researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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