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Goss, CIA Confront Leadership Exodus

CIA Director Porter Goss speaks at a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March 2005.
Alex Wong
Getty Images
CIA Director Porter Goss speaks at a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March 2005.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the CIA has been under an intense spotlight. Since those accusations of intelligence failures -- before the attacks, and before the Iraq war -- the agency is under new management, with former CIA official and former Florida congressman Porter Goss installed as director. But that move doesn't seem to have solved all the agency's problems.

Over the past 18 months, dozens of senior officers have left, primarily from the National Clandestine Service, what used to be known as the Directorate of Operations. Some have simply retired after serving at the agency for decades. Others who have left point to another reason: Goss.

Here's how John MacGaffin, a former associate deputy director of operations at the CIA, assesses the situation:

"I think without doubt, people in the directorate of operations today do not feel the leadership under Director Goss, at the top most level, supports them, has a clear view for the future, does not believe the agency is organized and heading in a direction, let alone the right direction."

The exodus also includes several deputy and associate deputy directors of the clandestine service, some of whom were forced out.

Last month, a veteran agent who headed the CIA's counter-terrorism center was forced to step down. In an e-mail to his staff, Robert Grenier said that he was told by the head of the clandestine service that he wasn't aggressive enough in the war on terrorism. Ruel Marc Gerecht, a former Middle East specialist with the CIA, says many of these departures are simply an effect of Director Goss trying to shake up a dysfunctional organization.

"You have older officers who are I think resigning now because the new director, Porter Goss, is attempting to, in their view, intrude on what they consider their perogatives and privileges," Gerecht says. "I don't think Porter Goss is fundamentally trying to change the service ...but he is intruding on their domain and they don't like it so they are either leaving or being told to leave."

There is also an increasing friction between the CIA and the Pentagon. Former CIA official Larry Johnson says there has been a longstanding competition between the two entities. Johnson says the CIA has traditionally been in charge of coordinating the overseas intelligence operations. He says Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is now trying to change that.

"Under Don Rumsfeld's stewardship there has been a greater push to allow DOD operatives to go overseas and operate without having to report to or be under the direction or coordination of the CIA chief of station," Johnson says. "So there has been an expansion on the part of DOD actitivies."

MacGaffin says it's not a bad thing that the Pentagon and CIA work in tandem, but the relationship must be organized.

"You can't have the DOD and the CIA talking to the same foreign government overseas, trying to figure out who is going to work with them to do what," he says, adding that such a situation is likely to "confuse the heck" out of foreign governments.

It's exactly the sort of situation that can make the CIA weaker, affect morale, and help push agency officials out the door, MacGaffin says. The senior officers who leave take with them important skills - languages such as Arabic and Pashtu - that are essential tools to help understand and fight terrorism.

CIA spokesperson Jennifer Millerwise-Dyck says their departure does not cripple the organization, which is trying to adapt to a new era.

"We're not in the middle of a Cold War anymore," she says. "We have a new leadership team that understands today's threats. They have been living and breathing it for 24 hours a day, seven days a week for several years now. And intelligence is a business in which you can never stand still."

Dyck also notes that the agency is seeing a record numbers of applicants for jobs. She says more than 120,000 people applied at the CIA last year.

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Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.