Robert Richer, the second-ranking official in the CIA's clandestine service, has announced his retirement, telling colleagues that he lacked confidence in the agency's leadership, according to current and former intelligence officials.
Richer, who was one of CIA Director Porter J. Goss's key personnel choices, made his announcement last Friday at a meeting of the Directorate of Operations leaders, according to some of the officials.
Some of them said Richer's decision revolved around an ongoing debate over how to improve human intelligence and the direction of the CIA. The agency's role and influence have waned with the appointment of John D. Negroponte as the overall director of national intelligence.
Other government officials disagreed with that assertion and said Richer's departure involved disputes over "operational issues" that they would not specify, and a clash of personalities between Richer, a former Marine, and Goss and his top aides.
Last year, Richer's predecessor and his boss resigned after clashing with Goss's aides. During Friday's meeting, Richer said he and his boss, the deputy director of operations -- who cannot be named because he remains undercover -- had been frustrated by Goss and his staff in their efforts to implement certain measures, sources said. Richer subsequently met with national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley to explain his decision.
A CIA spokesman declined to comment on the matter. Other intelligence sources would speak only anonymously because of agency rules and traditions against speaking to the media.
Yesterday, Goss sent an unusual worldwide message to all CIA employees praising Richer for his nearly 35 years of service. That only fueled the belief among some former intelligence officials that Richer's resignation reflects ongoing problems at the agency.
Richer has served for less than a year as the number two in the spy service, having been promoted from being chief of the Near East division.
The CIA has been under pressure to make changes after a presidential commission and the Sept. 11 commission found last year that human intelligence collection had failed regarding both the al Qaeda terrorist network and whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
The presidential commission recommended creation of a Human Intelligence Directorate within the CIA, which would rank above the agency's Directorate of Operations and coordinate foreign human-intelligence collection across the intelligence community, including the Pentagon and the FBI.
Some top administration officials favor a plan to make the clandestine service, as the Directorate of Operations is known, the central focus of the CIA, with all other functions -- such as analysis and technology -- subordinate to the human intelligence role.