Goss resigns as CIA chief

Director to leave in next few weeks after rocky tenure

May 06, 2006|By SIOBHAN GORMAN AND JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS | SIOBHAN GORMAN AND JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS,SUN REPORTERS

WASHINGTON -- CIA Director Porter J. Goss resigned abruptly yesterday after less than two years as head of the embattled spy agency, becoming the latest top member of President Bush's team to leave the administration.

Goss' exit within the next few weeks will end a rocky CIA tenure for the former Florida congressman and one-time intelligence officer. The period has been marked by personnel turmoil, tensions with Congress and behind-the-scenes feuding with the nation's spymaster, John D. Negroponte.

His departure leaves an uncertain future for an agency whose reputation was battered by failures leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks and faulty intelligence about Iraq's weapons programs before the 2003 invasion.

During a hastily called announcement in the Oval Office, with Goss at his side, Bush called Goss' time at the CIA "one of transition" and said he had had "a tough job."

"He's led ably," said the president, who appointed Goss in 2004 to succeed George J. Tenet, who resigned after being heavily criticized for the agency's performance in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

Bush credited Goss with putting the CIA on a path to improving the quality of U.S. intelligence.

"He's got a five-year plan to increase the number of analysts and operatives, which is going to help make this country a safer place and help us win the war on terror," Bush said.

Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, top deputy to Negroponte, is the leading candidate to replace Goss, a senior administration official said, according to the Associated Press. An announcement could come as early as Monday.

Hayden served as National Security Agency director until becoming the nation's No. 2 intelligence official one year ago. Since December, he has aggressively defended the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program. Hayden was one of its chief architects.

Speculation about a successor to Goss also focused yesterday on Frances Fragos Townsend, Bush's homeland security adviser; Henry Crumpton, a former top CIA operator who is the head of counterterrorism at the State Department; and two operations chiefs Goss fired in 2004, Stephen Kappes and Michael Sulick, who ran the CIA's clandestine service.

Goss' departure sets up a potentially bitter election-year battle over the direction of U.S. intelligence agencies and, quite possibly, another round of second-guessing over the administration's use of intelligence to justify the war in Iraq.

"There are red flags throughout the intelligence community," Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said in a statement filled with criticism for the CIA's performance during Goss' brief term as director.

Rep. Jane Harman of California, the senior Democrat on the House intelligence panel, reiterated her harsh criticism of Goss' CIA as one in "free fall" after an exodus of experienced personnel who had "either been pushed out or walked out the door in frustration."

Goss, who led the intelligence committee for six of his 14 years in Congress, said he was handing over control of an agency that "is on a very even keel, sailing well."

Under his stewardship, Goss said, the CIA had "improved dramatically [Bush's] goals for our nation's intelligence capabilities, which are, in fact, the things that I think are keeping us very safe."

Negroponte, who was said to have prodded Goss to leave, sat silently at Goss' side during the White House announcement. Later, he issued a statement praising Goss for having "worked tirelessly and effectively" to improve intelligence.

Negroponte assumed many of Goss' duties, including giving Bush his daily intelligence briefings, last spring when he took the new post of director of national intelligence after an overhaul of the spy network. Some current and former government officials said they saw Goss' resignation as a sign that Negroponte may be beginning to make his mark.

Rumors of Goss' impending departure had been buzzing in intelligence circles for several days, and the resignation was precipitated by a recent meeting at which Negroponte issued an ultimatum, former senior intelligence officials said.

In the meeting, Goss, who was afflicted by personnel challenges since the early months of his tenure, was reportedly told to fire his executive director Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, or leave himself. Goss refused to fire Foggo, said the former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Foggo, the third-ranking official at the CIA, has been under investigation by the CIA on allegations that he steered a contract to his friend, defense contractor Brent Wilkes, according to news reports. The FBI is investigating allegations that Wilkes threw poker games attended by prostitutes at the Watergate Hotel for members of Congress and top-ranking CIA officials, according to these reports.

Foggo has acknowledged attending the poker games but denied that anything improper occurred.

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