Within the past month, four former deputy directors of operations have tried to offer CIA Director Porter J. Goss advice about changing the clandestine service without setting off a rebellion, but Goss has declined to speak to any of them, said former CIA officials aware of the communications.
The four senior officials represent nearly two decades of experience leading the Directorate of Operations under both Republican and Democratic presidents. The officials were dismayed by the reaction and were concerned that Goss has isolated himself from the agency's senior staff, said former clandestine service officers aware of the offers.
The senior operations officials "wanted to talk as old colleagues and tell him to stop what he was doing the way he was doing it," said a former senior official familiar with the effort.
Last week, Deputy Director John E. McLaughlin retired after a series of confrontations between senior operations officials and Goss's top aide, Patrick Murray. Days before, the chief of the clandestine service, Stephen R. Kappes, said he would resign rather than carry out Murray's demand to fire Kappes's deputy, Michael Sulick, for challenging Murray's authority.
Goss and the White House asked Kappes to delay his decision until tomorrow, but they are actively considering his replacement, several current and former CIA officials said.
Kappes, whose accomplishments include persuading Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi to renounce weapons of mass destruction this year, began removing personal photos from his office walls yesterday, associates said.
A handful of other senior undercover operations officers have talked seriously about resigning, as soon as tomorrow.
"Each side doesn't understand the other's culture very well," one former senior operations officer said. "There is a way to do this elegantly. You don't have to humiliate people. You bring in people with really weak credentials, and everyone is going to rally around the flag."
Agency officials have criticized as inexperienced the four former Hill staff members Goss brought with him. Goss's first choice for executive director -- the agency's third-ranking official -- withdrew his name after The Washington Post reported that he left the agency 20 years ago after having been arrested for shoplifting.
Through his CIA spokesman, Goss, a former CIA case officer and chairman of the House intelligence committee, declined to comment about these matters.
At his Senate confirmation hearing Sept. 14, Goss said, "There is too much management at headquarters," which he said was "too bureaucratic" and had "stifled some of the innovation, some of the creativity and, frankly some of the risk-taking in the field."
He described one "stroke-of-a-pen fix" that he was considering: "Reassurance that people will be supported in the field, building the morale, those are more leadership issues."
He also offered a glimpse of his management style. "I believe it takes, sometimes, very blunt, strong language" to get changes made. "I don't like doing it -- I call it tough love -- but I think occasionally you have to do that."
Goss has adopted a management style that relies heavily on former committee staff aides, several of whom are former mid-level CIA employees not well regarded within the CIA's Directorate of Operations. Murray, the new chief of staff, has been perceived by operations officers as particularly disrespectful and mistrustful of career employees.
One former senior DO official agreed yesterday that some changes were needed, saying: "Clean the place out if it's needed, but you've got to be clever about it."
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.
The four former deputy directors of operations who have tried to offer Goss advice are Thomas Twetten, Jack Downing, Richard F. Stoltz and the recently retired James L. Pavitt.
They "wanted to save him from going through" what two other directors, Stansfield Turner and John M. Deutch, had experienced when they tried to make personnel changes quickly, one former senior official aware of their efforts said.
Turner and Deutch served under Democratic presidents. Turner wanted to clean house after the Watergate scandal and CIA "dirty tricks" exposed during the Church Commission hearings. Deutch sought to change the inbred culture of the operations staff after the Iran-contra scandal.
The Directorate of Operations numbers about 5,000 people, including about 1,000 covert operators overseas, and runs foreign spying, including counterterrorism operations. Because its operators engage in undercover activities, often on their own, they are a difficult group to manage and control.
To win their support, Goss's immediate predecessor, George J. Tenet, met with the former directors regularly. He sought advice from them individually and started to rebuild the clandestine service, which was cut by Deutch after its main adversary, the Soviet Union, dissolved, and before terrorism became a central focus.
Although Kappes has not left his job, several people have been approached or screened as his replacement. One is the director of the counterterrorism center; the other is the station chief in London. Both are undercover and may not be identified by name.
Another candidate, according to current and former CIA officials, is Richard P. Lawless Jr., a former CIA operations officer who is deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, according to a CIA official who asked not to be identified. Lawless served in the agency from 1972 to 1987, when he left after running afoul of senior DO officers while carrying out secret missions for then-CIA Director William J. Casey.
Lawless then opened a private consulting firm that did business in Asia, particularly with Taiwan and South Korea. In a 2002 profile in the Taipei Times, Lawless was described as having "long-term ties to President Bush's brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush." The two met shortly after Lawless set up his consulting firm and Jeb Bush was Florida's secretary of commerce seeking business in Asia.