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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* 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."