By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 19, 2006
Stephen R. Kappes, a legendary CIA clandestine operative, will become as soon as today the No. 2 at the agency in a move that CIA Director Michael V. Hayden hopes will lift morale there. Kappes's top priority will be to help rebuild the agency's human intelligence capabilities when the United States needs spies within the jihadist community and elsewhere.
Battered for past failures and downgraded as leader of the intelligence community, the CIA nonetheless has been given new authority as home of the National Clandestine Service, which under Hayden and Kappes will coordinate all overseas human intelligence carried out by U.S. agencies, including the Pentagon and FBI.
Kappes, who speaks Russian and Farsi, is a former Marine whose almost 25 years at the CIA included being station chief in Moscow and Kuwait and running operations against Iran. He returns to an agency whose clandestine service has been shaken by retirements and the resignations of senior-level case officers with years of experience in recruiting agents overseas.
It was Kappes's own departure in November 2004 that began the exodus of seasoned case officers. At the time, he was head of the clandestine service as deputy director of operations, appointed just months before by then-CIA Director George J. Tenet. Kappes got into a confrontation with Patrick Murray, chief of staff to Director Porter J. Goss, who succeeded Tenet. Kappes and his top deputy, Michael Sulick, resigned and were followed by others who were unhappy with the new Goss team.
Now Hayden and Kappes will try to stem the outflow of trained clandestine officers. "I know of a 50-year-old woman, one of the few who made station chief, who is thinking of leaving, and they are trying to keep her on board," a retired former senior agency official said Friday. "She has got several attractive offers, but she is the type of person they would want to keep."
Kappes understands that problem firsthand, having just left a London-based security company, ArmorGroup International. It hires former intelligence people to operate its approximately $200 million a year in contracts with multinational companies and governments in Iraq and elsewhere. Kappes's CIA salary, at about $165,000 a year, will be about half of what he received, not counting stock and options, as ArmorGroup's chief operating officer.
The CIA's problems with clandestine service experience are further complicated by the influx over the past five years of young case officers and the increasing pressure to place them overseas but outside embassies -- where they will not have diplomatic immunity. Instead, they will live within communities where they will operate as civilians with "nonofficial cover" and therefore have greater opportunities to meet prospective agents with connections to jihadist and other terrorist elements.
"This is not James Bond in the movies," an experienced former case officer said recently. "These people take years to be productive, and not all of them do. I remember one case where someone lived abroad in a country for six years before they started getting good material, but then it began to flow."
Because of a change caused by the 2004 intelligence reorganization legislation that placed the director of national intelligence above the CIA director, deputy CIA director is not a presidential appointment and does not need Senate confirmation. Kappes has many supporters on Capitol Hill, along with some detractors.
"Mr. Kappes brings a wealth of experience in the clandestine service to the agency's senior leadership. Perhaps more importantly, his return to the agency has already gone a long way to assure operators that they are well represented in management and that their concerns will be met," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, said during the floor debate on Hayden's nomination last month.
When Kappes was first mentioned for the job of deputy CIA director, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, called him "the ideal partner" for Hayden, who is an Air Force four-star general and former director of the National Security Agency. Warner cited some of Kappes's successes, including his key role with British intelligence colleagues in secret negotiations in which they persuaded Libya's Moammar Gaddafi to give up his nuclear weapons program. "Kappes's pitch to the Libyan leader is said to have been blunt and irresistible: 'You are the drowning man, and I am the lifeguard,' " Warner said on the Senate floor May 10.
Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), a ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, is one of Kappes's most vocal critics. Weldon criticizes what he calls Kappes's failure to pursue the congressman's view that a colleague of Manucher Ghorbanifar, one of the instigators of the Iran-contra affair, had important information on Iran's nuclear program. "Kappes was the ringleader of an internal CIA rebellion," Weldon wrote in his recent book, "Countdown to Terror." "He was one of many in the CIA resistant to needed reforms."
Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who succeeded Goss as chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told the Washington Times last month that Kappes was guilty of "gross insubordination" for his behavior at the agency under Goss.