Goss leaves an agency in turmoil

Former officials criticize lack of vision at CIA

May 06, 2006|By SIOBHAN GORMAN | SIOBHAN GORMAN,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- Porter J. Goss' replacement as CIA director will inherit an agency with an identity crisis that, to some degree, mirrors the overall state of U.S. intelligence, former top intelligence officials said yesterday.

Many of them have been critical of Goss' performance, saying he failed to create a post-9/11 vision for his agency.

Similarly, their criticism of Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte, who is Goss' boss, is that he has not produced an effective framework for the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies under his command.

The CIA's turmoil is "emblematic of the disastrous condition of the U.S. intelligence community," said Michael Scheuer, who led the CIA analysis group on Osama bin Laden. "He leaves behind an agency adrift."

When Negroponte became the nation's chief spymaster last spring, as the first director of national intelligence, Goss was effectively demoted and the CIA was no longer the nation's pre-eminent intelligence agency, though still an essential one.

For Goss, it was a difficult period to manage an agency that historically has been difficult to run, said Mark Lowenthal, a former top CIA official.

"The agency itself is in the middle of this huge generational transition," he said.

Under orders from the White House to shake up the agency, Goss ordered several rounds of firings.

But a number of CIA veterans said the people whom Goss dismissed had been well-positioned to overhaul the CIA. Soon, these ousted veterans and their allies began to complain to the press, and the exodus of senior CIA employees began to define Goss' tenure.

A year ago, at a speech in Simi Valley, Calif., Goss, a former member of Congress, undermined his image as leader of a reshaped CIA when he said he had been "a little amazed at the workload" in his new job.

In a prepared statement sent out after his brief remarks in the Oval Office, Goss cited "great strides" during his tenure, including a greater focus on the CIA's overseas work, improved training and more rigorous analysis.

However, several former intelligence officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they still do business with intelligence agencies, said Goss had been unable, as one put it, to "solidify the position of the CIA within the intelligence community in light of the creation of [Negroponte's office as] director of national intelligence."

Goss' recent campaign to root out leakers at the agency and among its retired officers also cast him as backward-looking, one CIA veteran said.

"You could argue Goss was a counterrevolutionary force," he said.

Several intelligence veterans said Goss leaves behind a fractured agency with low morale and an uncertain future.

Goss' five-year plan to increase the number of spies and analysts at the CIA, which Bush praised yesterday, exists more on paper than in practice, insiders said. It isn't clear how the new spies are supposed to do their jobs differently to meet the demands of the battle against terrorism, they added.

Some career CIA employees who bristled under Goss' leadership expressed pleasure over his departure, said one former CIA officer, who added: "Everyone is holding their breath."

The upheaval at the agency is similar to the early post-Cold War period, between 1990 and 1995, when five people ran the agency on a permanent or acting basis.

"When you get into that mode, people hunker down," the former official said.

Until a new director takes over, it is unlikely that the agency will make much headway in revamping its spying capacity, several intelligence veterans said.

"You can't really go forth and revitalize and reform your mission unless you have a leader with his or her management team in place," said John Rollins, a former Homeland Security department intelligence official.

How long it may take to put a new CIA chief in charge is unclear, with some predicting that it could take months.

Goss' departure adds to a growing list of intelligence agency heads who have left their jobs over the past year or so.

"It's actually an extraordinary period," Lowenthal said. "I can't think of any parallels where you've had so much transition and turmoil. I don't remember another time like this."

The directors of other major intelligence agencies, including the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds spy satellites, have been in their positions for less than a year.

The head of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which analyzes maps and pictures, plans to leave next month.

The head of the FBI's counterterrorism and intelligence branch announced his resignation last week.

"The transformation of the intelligence community is difficult enough in itself without the senior leadership turning over at this frequency," Rollins said.

That turnover could also be an opportunity, Lowenthal said.

"You could say it makes things harder. You could also say it gives [Negroponte] an opportunity to sort of assert himself in town," he said.

siobhan.gorman@baltsun.com

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