Robert Richer, the outgoing No. 2 official in the CIA's clandestine service, made an unusual appearance at a closed session of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence yesterday to answer questions about how his concern over a lack of leadership at the agency triggered his retirement.
The afternoon session was not publicly announced; neither senators nor staff members who attended would even confirm Richer's presence during their weekly session devoted to "hot topics." "He was impressive," was all one participant in the meeting would say yesterday, insisting that because of committee rules he could not be identified.
Richer's departure is a setback for the CIA and particularly CIA Director Porter J. Goss, who selected him for the job less than a year ago. In leaving as assistant deputy director of operations, Richer joins a number of senior clandestine managers, including several with Middle East expertise, who have left since Goss took over the agency one year ago Saturday. Richer is a former CIA station chief in Amman, Jordan, and had headed the Near East division.
On Sept. 14, less than a week after Richer announced his retirement at a Directorate of Operations leadership meeting, he had a private session with Goss to explain his decision.
According to sources close to both men, Richer was blunt in his assessment of Goss's tenure and urged Goss, a Republican former congressman from Florida who once chaired the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, to communicate a vision for the agency and demonstrate leadership that senior career officials could rally behind.
"Rob laid at his doorstep, in a collegial way, that Goss is out of touch," said one officer whose identity is protected by law. "It fell on deaf ears," the officer said. Richer left the meeting angry and walked out of the Langley headquarters for perhaps the last time, several officers said.
The CIA and its leadership have struggled to determine their role in the wake of last year's legislation that reorganized the intelligence community, including creation of a director of national intelligence (DNI) with a staff of 500 that is over the CIA and Goss.
Last March, a presidential commission recommended expanding and improving gathering of human intelligence in all government agencies and creating a directorate within the CIA to coordinate it. Troubling some in the agency was that the new body would be superior to the Directorate of Operations, which traditionally has overseen all clandestine operations.
Current and former intelligence officials said Richer wanted something more expansive in reforming and expanding the clandestine service within the CIA, while reducing the side of the agency that conducts analysis, some of which would pass over to the DNI's operation.
Richer has told others he was disappointed with Goss's response to his ideas.