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Destabilizing the CIA | The Nation

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Destabilizing the CIA

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In Washington, it's hardly without precedent for a presidential appointee to swear one thing before a Senate confirmation committee and then, once ensconced in the sought-after post, do another. But even by this standard, George W. Bush's new Director of Central Intelligence, Porter Goss, has been particularly brazen. Appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on September 14, Goss--until recently, a Florida Congressman and chair of the House Intelligence Committee--not only swore to "commit myself to a nonpartisan approach to the job of DCI"; he even went so far as to state that "it would be entirely inappropriate to make anything that looks like a partisan comment."

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Jason Vest
Jason Vest writes on national security affairs for The Nation.

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On November 15, however, the newly appointed DCI told CIA employees in a memo that "we support the Administration and its policies in our work...we do not identify with, support or champion opposition to the Administration or its policies." One of the most insightful analyses of the memo came from Jon Stewart's Daily Show; correspondent Rob Corddry explained it as reflective of the Administration's desire to deal only "with intelligence that's been vetted to support decisions they've already made. They're tired of having to repeatedly misinterpret information the CIA gives them, so from now on intelligence will arrive at the White House pre-misinterpreted." In addition to heralding a likely continuation of the intelligence "stovepiping" process that reformers agree has to change, Goss's memo was a stunning and unparalleled articulation of CIA fealty to the White House. It was also tantamount to a declaration of war by Goss and his Capitol Hill cronies against career civil servants--and necessary intelligence reform--that shows a remarkable lack of judgment and competence.

While external political pressures have marginalized the agency's effectiveness, it also has a host of systemic problems that have nothing to do with politics. When Goss was nominated, some hoped that as a former CIA officer and Congressional overseer of the agency, he would be a statesmanlike reformer and would staff the CIA accordingly, perhaps going so far as to recall to duty some of the agency's more respected hands. Not only has Goss declined the offer of a simple meeting with former deputy directors of operations (the chief spy-runners) seeking to offer counsel, but the Hill aides he's brought with him to Langley are described by one venerated CIA officer as "the typical staffer--guys who used to work in the agency but fucked up or were too political to be effective."

Joseph "Jay" Jakub, whose eight years of CIA experience as an analyst ended in the mid-1990s, has spent much of the past decade working for Goss or the rabidly partisan Representative Dan Burton; despite a lack of actual spy-running experience, he now occupies the Goss-created slot of "special assistant for operations and analysis." Patrick Murray, John Ashcroft's former associate deputy attorney general for national security and Goss's chief of staff at the House Intelligence Committee and now at Langley, has, in the view of many, proved he has no business being there. Angered about the revelations that derailed one early high-level appointment (that of Michael Kostiw, who was forced out of the agency twenty-two years ago after a shoplifting incident), Murray told the agency's counterintelligence chief that she would be held responsible for any further personnel-related leaks.

"This really shows you how paranoid, and how poor, Murray and these guys' thinking skills are--the Kostiw flap was in 1982, and there really isn't anyone left at Langley who goes back that far," says a retired officer. "In all likelihood the Kostiw information came from a retiree. And even if it didn't, fashionable as 'pre-emption' is with this set, there's only so much you can do to stop someone from dropping a dime before they do it." The counterintelligence chief's boss, associate deputy director for operations Michael Sulick, upbraided Murray for his bullying; when Goss backed Murray and ordered deputy director of operations Stephen Kappes to reassign Sulick, both Kappes and Sulick resigned, thus depriving the Directorate of Operations, or DO, of two of its most experienced and respected hands.

While Goss has replaced Kappes and Sulick with bona fide CIA employees, a survey of former and current case officers doesn't yield much enthusiasm for his choices--named here for the first time. José Rodriguez, the new deputy director of operations, gets reasonably good marks for his recent stint as director of the Counterterrorist Center, but some are still bothered by a 1997 incident in which he tried to help an old friend out of a drug-related arrest in Latin America; others think that Rodriguez's experience base is lacking, given the Latin American division's historical lower-on-the-totem-pole status within the agency. Some hold that Rodriguez and the agency will be well-served by his new deputy, Mike Mears, because of Mears's service in a variety of agency positions, but several veteran case officers referred to Mears as "a disaster," citing his role in two failed field operations in the past (the officers declined to give details).

The critical position of executive director--the person responsible for actually running the CIA day to day--is now going to a twenty-two-year agency veteran, but knowledgeable observers are less than optimistic about how the nominee, K. Dusty Foggo, will do, particularly with regard to fixing the agency's very broken support functions. While Foggo has had ample field experience--his last overseas assignment was running the agency's Germany-based forward logistics facility--his lack of senior headquarters-level posts may be inadequate preparation to run a 33,000-strong agency. "He hasn't had a lot of give and take with the division chiefs or deputy directors, as well as equivalents at other agencies or on the Hill--at best, he's not ready," says one veteran. Some also note memorable overseas clashes between Foggo and DO officers and State Department personnel.

According to several retired officers, the muscle-flexing of the Gosstroopers is coming at great peril not only to intelligence professionalism and national security but to themselves. "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," says one decorated former case officer. "Goss's people will find themselves isolated. If they fire or reassign certain people, all they'll do is create wider gaps in already lacking institutional knowledge and competence, and however much backing Goss has from the President, that will not sit well even with Republicans in Congress. But the damage has already been done." Or, as former deputy director of operations Thomas Twetten put it in a November 23 Los Angeles Times op-ed, "I am not sure that the current DCI can recover from the wrong foot his partisan staff has put him on."

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