The Magazine

The CIA 1--Bush 0

The age of reform ends after 18 months.

May 22, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 34 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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PORTER GOSS'S TENURE as director of central intelligence began with a public spat between the new reform-minded CIA leadership and an intransigent bureaucracy. Now, 18 months later, it is ending in a cloud of confusion. Goss is gone and so are his agents of change. Two of the CIA officials at the heart of that opening battle--Mary Margaret Graham and Stephen Kappes--have been promoted. And the old guard is happy.

"The move was seen as a direct repudiation of Goss's leadership and as an olive branch to CIA veterans disaffected by his 18-month tenure," wrote Peter Baker and Charles Babington in the Washington Post. Yet Goss had taken to the CIA the high expectations of many top Washington policymakers who work on intelligence issues.

"Porter Goss's confirmation . . . represents perhaps the most important changing of the guard for our intelligence community since 1947," the year the CIA was created, said Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who chairs the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, on the day Goss was confirmed. "He will be the first director of central intelligence in a new, and hopefully better, intelligence community."

And now he's gone. So what happened?

GOSS WAS SWORN IN as CIA director on September 22, 2004, two days after the Senate voted 77-17 to confirm him. Although his hearings came in the midst of a heated presidential campaign, Goss managed to win the votes of most Senate Democrats.

On September 30, Goss named Michael Kostiw, the staff director of the House Intelligence Committee's subcommittee on terrorism, executive director of the CIA. Within days, a leak to the Washington Post revealed that Kostiw had left the Agency in the early 1980s in the wake of a shoplifting incident, and he promptly withdrew from consideration.

Welcome to the CIA, Mr. Goss. Enjoy the ride.

On November 5, Goss's new chief of staff Patrick Murray confronted Mary Margaret Graham, then serving as associate deputy director for counterterrorism in the directorate of operations. The two discussed several items, including the prospective replacement for Kostiw, a CIA veteran named Kyle "Dusty" Foggo. Murray had a simple message: No more leaks.

Graham took offense at the accusatory warning and notified her boss, Michael Sulick, who in turn notified his boss, Stephen Kappes. A meeting of Goss, Murray, Sulick, and Kappes followed. Goss attended most of the meeting, in which the two new CIA leaders reiterated their concern about leaks. After Goss left, Murray once again warned the two career CIA officials that leaks would not be tolerated. According to a source with knowledge of the incident, Sulick took offense, called Murray "a Hill puke," and threw a stack of papers in his direction.

Goss summoned Kappes the following day. Although others in the new CIA leadership believed Sulick's behavior was an act of insubordination worthy of firing, Goss didn't go quite that far. He ordered Kappes to reassign Sulick to a position outside of the building. Goss suggested Sulick be named New York City station chief. Kappes refused and threatened to resign if Sulick were reassigned. Goss accepted his resignation and Sulick soon followed him out the door.

A Washington Post story on November 13 and a follow-up the next day reported that Goss staffers were "disgruntled" former CIA officials who were "known widely" for their "abrasive management style." One was "highly partisan." On the other side of the dispute, judging from the Post accounts, were highly respected career civil servants.

It was a characterization that would persist throughout Goss's tenure at the Agency. And it was deeply misleading.

ELEMENTS OF THE CIA have been in near-open revolt against the Bush administration since shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, despite the fact that Bush retained CIA director George Tenet, a Clinton appointee and former Democratic Hill staffer. The CIA staff is huge--by some estimates nearly 25,000--so attempts to ascribe views to "the Agency" are imprecise. Many CIA officials simply do their jobs, sometimes at great personal risk, and deserve the gratitude of their country.

But the notion that the CIA was apolitical until Porter Goss and his staff arrived is silly. It wasn't.

Examples of political meddling at the CIAare plentiful. Here are a few:

* In July 2003, Joseph Wilson went public about his trip to Niger to explore claims that Iraqi officials had sought uranium from the African nation. Wilson had been sent despite (or because of) the fact that he was a fervent critic of Bush's Middle East policy. Although the details of the trip were classified, Wilson never signed a nondisclosure agreement and was thus free to discuss his trip and misreport its findings. So he did.

* After the identity of Wilson's wife was allegedly leaked, then published in a Robert Novak column, the CIA formally referred the leak, a potential crime, to the Justice Department. A leak of the existence of the classified referral--a leak that almost certainly came from the CIA--led directly to the appointment of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. The CIA, perhaps fearful of where an investigation of the second leak might lead, did not refer that potential crime to the Justice Department.

* On July 15, 2004, an anonymous CIA official published a blistering attack on the Bush administration and, to a lesser extent, the CIA. The text had been through the CIA's pre-publication review and the author--subsequently identified as Michael Scheuer, the longtime head of the CIA's bin Laden unit--was granted permission to talk to the media. But when Scheuer used these interviews to criticize the CIA as well as the administration, the Agency quickly shut him up. "As long as the book was being used to bash the president," he later told Dana Priest of the Washington Post, "they gave me carte blanche to talk to the media."

* On September 16, 2004, the New York Times had a story about a leaked classified CIA analysis of Iraq. "A classified National Intelligence Estimate prepared for President Bush in late July spells out a dark assessment of prospects for Iraq, government officials said Wednesday. The estimate outlines three possibilities for Iraq through the end of 2005, with the worst case being developments that could lead to civil war, the officials said. The most favorable outcome described is an Iraq whose stability would remain tenuous in political, economic and security terms." Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry immediately used the report to question Bush administration claims that elections could be held in January 2005 and to accuse the Bush administration of living in a "fantasy world of spin."

* In a column published September 27, 2004, Robert Novak reported that a senior CIA official had briefed a group of business executives in northern California with the approval of his "management team" at the Agency. The official, Paul Pillar, harshly criticized the Bush administration and the Iraq war. His attack, which came less than two months before the 2004 presidential election, was not off the record. Although the ground rules stipulated that the official was to remain anonymous, the substance of his remarks could be reported.

If there were any doubt that these leaks--and many others--were designed to undermine President Bush's reelection effort, those doubts were put to rest a short time later. "The fact that the agency was leaking isn't denied by some," according to a November 2005 account in the American Prospect. W. Patrick Lang, former chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency's Middle East division, spoke openly about the effort in an interview with the magazine. "Of course they were leaking. They told me about it at the time. They thought it was funny. They'd say things like, 'This last thing that came out, surely people will pay attention to that. They won't reelect this man.'"

GOSS ARRIVED at the CIA with at least two goals: stemming the flow of leaks from the Agency and reforming the directorate of operations (DO). They were difficult tasks. The DO has long viewed itself as untouchable, a problem for a bureaucracy that emphasizes recruitment numbers over risk-taking, and budget increases over penetration of the enemy. (See Reuel Marc Gerecht's "The Sorry State of the CIA," July 19, 2004, in this magazine.) Others who have tried to reform the DO have met with little success. (John Deutch comes to mind.) The DO is virtually impervious to change.

Weeks after Goss arrived at the CIA, a "decorated former case officer" told the Nation about the changes sought at the DO. "From here on out, elements of the DO especially will effectively slow or close down; directives will be ignored or carried out at a leisurely pace," said the officer, in comments published in the December 13, 2004 issue. From the beginning, then, the bureaucracy was determined to fight.

Stopping leaks would prove no easier. But, on April 19, 2006, Goss had one high-profile success. He fired Mary McCarthy, a senior official in the CIA's Office of the Inspector General, after she acknowledged discussing classified information with reporters. (McCarthy later denied the charges through a spokesman.) CIA officials will not discuss the specifics of the case, although two sources with knowledge of the leaks say that they were serious. "They have badly, badly compromised national security," says one source. "They were extraordinarily damaging."

CIA officials refuse to speculate on whether McCarthy was one of those who leaked so the American public would not "reelect this man." That she contributed large sums of money to the Kerry campaign and the Democratic National Committee shortly before the election is, however, suggestive.

Not surprisingly, reporters on the intelligence beat (some of whom presumably had received leaks from McCarthy) wrote long tributes to her professionalism. Her former colleagues spoke highly of her, and Democratic politicians, including John Kerry himself, lined up to declare her efforts patriotic.

On the other side? Silence. The White House said little about the termination and nothing at all in support of the CIA director. Goss associates say he was surprised and disappointed that senior Bush administration officials chose not to offer any public support of his efforts.

It was an only-in-Washington moment: A senior CIA official fired after she acknowledged leaking classified information--information that reportedly damaged national security--is lionized, while the CIA director who terminated her is accused of a witch hunt. And the White House says nothing in support of the man it charged with cleaning up the Agency and clamping down on leaks.

In retrospect, it was a sign of things to come.

AT ABOUT 10:30 a.m. on Friday, May 5, the chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees--Representative Pete Hoekstra and Senator Pat Roberts--received urgent phone calls from the White House. Hoekstra was attending the funeral of a Michigan soldier killed in Iraq and could not immediately be reached.

The news would come as a surprise: Porter Goss was resigning as CIA director. The announcement was scheduled for approximately three hours later. No reason was given for his departure.

After the announcement, on Friday night, Hoekstra received a call from Candy Wolff, head of congressional relations for the White House. Wolff was calling to let the House Intelligence chairman know that Air Force General Michael Hayden would be nominated Monday to replace Goss. Hoekstra said that he had concerns about the fact that Hayden was still on active duty, and Wolff told him that someone else from the White House would be calling.

In the meantime, "senior administration officials" offered anonymous criticism of Goss in interviews with reporters, something that did not go over well with Goss's former colleagues in the House. And while Goss decided that he would not speak publicly about his resignation, he told former colleagues and associates eager to defend him that they were free to do so.

On Saturday, both Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley called Hoekstra to discuss the changes at the CIA. Hadley attempted to assuage Hoekstra's concerns about Hayden by touting the man chosen to be Hayden's top deputy, a CIA veteran who would be well liked at Langley but whom he did not name. Hoekstra made clear his concerns about Hayden and told Hadley he was not supportive of the changes.

On Sunday, Hoekstra went public with his concerns, telling Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace that Hayden would be "the wrong person" for the job. The same day, the Washington Post reported that former senior intelligence officials were contacted about the appointment of Hayden's top deputy. The Post did not name the prospective nominee but quoted a former senior official who said, "The Agency, and particularly the DO, will be happy with this choice."

The next day, the White House made its announcement: Hayden was Bush's choice to run the CIA. In a press briefing afterwards, without being asked, Negroponte told reporters that Stephen Kappes was "the leading candidate" to be Hayden's deputy.

Jane Harman, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, released a statement expressing concern that Hayden was too close to the White House. At the same time, however, Harman endorsed Kappes. As her statement said:

Some of these concerns can be alleviated if Steve Kappes is named as Hayden's deputy. Kappes would go a long way to reassuring the workforce. As a civilian with a distinguished career in human intelligence, Kappes would send the right signal to the women and men who serve at CIA. Kappes also stood up to the Agency's previous management team--evidence that he is willing to speak 'truth to power.'

It remains unclear why the White House would think that the selection of Kappes, who left the CIA after his public dispute with Goss, might reassure members of Congress, especially Republicans, eager to reform the Agency. Former colleagues say that Kappes is a smart and savvy veteran of the Agency's operations side. He is not, however, a reformer. They describe Kappes as an ardent, sometimes reflexive, defender of the CIA bureaucracy.

Harman was not the only one happy about Kappes's return to the CIA. "It's a phenomenal choice," said A.B. "Buzzy" Krongard, a former executive director of the CIA, replaced by Goss, in an interview with the Washington Post: "It's an admission that it was a big mistake for Goss to bring in the people he did and let them loose with no adult supervision."

ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross, guest-hosting the Charlie Rose show Monday night, interviewed former deputy CIA director John McLaughlin. Ross said that people he had spoken with "said that the selection of Kappes indicated the purge that Porter Goss had attempted was over, that it was back to business as usual as it had been 20 months ago." Ross asked McLaughlin: "Is that accurate?"

McLaughlin praised Kappes and replied, "Yeah, I think--I think that's basically an accurate assessment."

So it's business as usual at the CIA. The White House took on the Agency. And the Agency won.

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.