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The CIA Fights Back

The Agency fights back as Porter Goss and the Bush administration push for institutional reform.

10:00 AM, Nov 15, 2004 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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ON NOVEMBER 5, 2004, a top aide to new CIA Director Porter Goss warned the associate deputy director of counterintelligence about unauthorized leaks to the media. It was an admonition that might be considered unnecessary: secrecy is a hallmark of the agency and, in any case, such leaks are often against the law. But several officials bristled at the forewarning and after a series of confrontations the deputy director of Operations, Stephen R. Kappes, offered his resignation as a protest.

How do we know about all of this? The details were leaked and appeared Saturday on the front page of the Washington Post. Both the Post and the New York Times ran follow-up stories on Sunday. That evening, CBS News anchor John Roberts was already suggesting a failure, asking reporter Joie Chen, "What went wrong?" And so we have, three months into Porter Goss's tenure at the agency, a full-blown war between the Bush administration and the CIA.

In fact, this war has been underway for years but only one side--the CIA--has been fighting. The White House response to this latest assault will be an important sign of its willingness to gut the rotten bureaucracy at the CIA.

Dana Priest, co-author of the two Washington Post stories and one of a dozen reporters who regularly receive CIA leaks, previewed this current battle in an online chat on October 13, 2004. A reader from Bethesda, Maryland, asked: "What's your take on Porter Goss's leadership at the CIA after nearly a month in office? Is he making an effort to reach out to the rank and file or is he pretty much relying on his 'special advisers' to run the place for him?"

Wrote Priest: "He's created quite a stir among employees who are anxious and worried about his intentions. Mainly this is because he brought with him a group of Congressional aides who were not well respected, so I hear, by people in the building. Now, the question is: are they not well respected because they have axes to grind or because they represent change at an agency that has a hard time changing; or, are they not well respected because they don't know enough about intelligence and are mean spirited. Time will tell."

Now we know. According to the Post, top advisers to Goss are "disgruntled" former CIA officials "widely known" for their "abrasive management style" and for criticizing the agency. One left the CIA after an undistinguished intelligence career and another is known for being "highly partisan."

On the other side, though, are disinterested civil servants: an unnamed "highly respected case officer," and Stephen Kappes, deputy director for operations "whose accomplishments include persuading Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi to renounce weapons of mass destruction this year." (Persuasion? Were the Iraq war and subsequent capture of Saddam Hussein mere details?)

With this description of the participants is it any wonder that the anti-Bush-administration leakers often choose the Washington Post? What exactly has the Goss leadership team done to deserve such a cheap shot? Unfortunately, the Post articles give us few answers.

The reporting consists mainly of a one-sided chronology of the dispute over media leaks and a collection of unsourced and unsubstantiated personal smears of the Goss team. As for substance, the Post reported on Saturday that former deputy CIA director John McLaughlin believes top Goss aide Patrick Murray "was treating senior officials disrespectfully." The article continues: "Current and retired senior managers have criticized Goss, former chairman of the House intelligence committee, for not interacting with senior managers and for giving Murray too much authority over day-to-day operations."

The Post article from Sunday replowed much of the same ground. It added one new wrinkle: Goss has not yet made time to meet with four former senior CIA officials. (These weren't just any officials. According to the article, "the four senior officials represent nearly two decades of experience leading the Directorate of Operations under both Republican and Democratic presidents." The not-so-subtle implication is that Goss was unreasonable for failing to meet with the leaders.

Was he?

According to yet another anonymous source in the Post piece on Sunday, the group didn't want to talk so much as they wanted to lecture. The former officials "wanted to talk as old colleagues and tell him to stop what he was doing the way he was doing it."

After hundreds of words from the Post we still have very little idea of what, exactly, Goss is doing that has caused so much heartburn at the agency. But if he's aggressively reforming the bureaucracy, he should most certainly not stop what he is doing. In fact, the concern among critics of the agency is that Goss faces a nearly impossible job and will not do nearly enough to change the dysfunctional culture of the agency.