A bolt out of the blue? Or a bolt?

Porter Goss’s sudden announcement of his departure from the CIA is puzzling. The former Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee and ex-CIA case officer offered no reason for vacating the CIA directorship, and there was no successor ready to go. News of his resignation came during a brief joint appearance at the White House by George W. Bush and Goss on Friday afternoon (the traditional time slot for putting out bad news). And–whaddayaknow–no pesky questions from journalists. This has led to the obvious speculation: was it the hookers?

I’ll get to the (potential) hot stuff in a moment. But consider this: The CIA has been a mess for years–especially after 9/11. Former CIA officials routinely say that morale is lousy and that employees have been fleeing the agency, many of them alienated by the heavy-handed Goss regime, regarded as too close to the White House. One former CIA official recently told me that the retention rate for new analysts and case officers has plummeted. Many are leaving after a year. Private contractors routinely troll the CIA cafeteria, luring away the best talent they can find. (“We’ll pay you more, contract you back to the agency, and you won’t have to deal with those damn bureaucrats.”) And there is a war still going on. The Bush administration has yet to declare al Qaeda defeated. In fact, Osama bin Laden is continues to make his videos.

The CIA beset with problems, Americans dying overseas–why would Goss give up this crucial post at a critical time before a replacement was in the wings? What sort of patriot is this?

And–I’m getting closer to the sex angle–there’s already turmoil on the Seventh Floor of CIA HQ. Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, the CIA’s executive director (who was put in that post by Goss), has been under investigation by both the CIA’s inspector general and the FBI. Foggo, the No. 3 man at the CIA, was a regular at a poker game hosted by Brent Wilkes, a businessman tagged by federal prosecutors as a coconspirator in the bribery case that landed Republican Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham in jail. The CIA IG is examining whether Foggo helped one of Wilkes’ companies win a CIA contract for providing bottled water, first-aid supplies and other items to CIA officials in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to he San Diego Union-Tribune, critics have claimed the CIA overpaid for this contract.

Did Foggo help Wilkes, his best friend since the late 1960s, bilk the CIA?

That may be the least of it. Last week–here it is!–the Wall Street Journal reported that the feds are investigating whether Wilkes and Mitchell Wade, a defense contractor who pleaded guilty to giving Duke Cunningham more than $1 million in bribes, supplied Cunningham with prostitutes, limos and hotel rooms (a dangerous combination). The Journal wrote, “Besides scrutinizing the prostitution scheme for evidence that might implicate contractor Brent Wilkes, investigators are focusing on whether any other members of Congress, or their staffs, may also have used the same free services, though it isn’t clear whether investigators have turned up anything to implicate others.” Other members of Congress. That’s something to ponder.

Wade reportedly has confessed that he did periodically arrange for a limousine to pick up Cunningham and a hooker and ferry them to a suite at the Watergate Hotel or the Westin Grand. Wade also said that Wilkes participated in the ply-Duke-with-sex scheme.

What’s this got to do with Porter Goss? Maybe nothing. But here’s the reason for speculation. Wilkes did hold parties and poker games for CIA officials and lawmakers, including members of the House intelligence committee. (Goss has been a CIA director, a lawmaker, and a member of the House intelligence committee.) Wilkes was pals with Foggo. (As CIA executive director, Foggo manages the CIA on a day-by-day basis for Goss.) So might Goss know anything about (a) a rigged contract; (b) bad behavior at Wilkes’ poker bashes; (c) the non-recreational use of prostitutes; (d) all of the above or something we cannot even imagine? The Foggo-Wilkes-hooker links are certainly quite sketchy at the moment. But–to put this in perspective–they are firmer than some of the intelligence the Bush administration used to claim Saddam Hussein was in bed with bin Laden.

Did Goss attend those poker games? Does he have a connection with Wilkes? Is there a bad movie in all this? Some initial reports have suggested that Goss left the CIA after losing a bureaucratic turf fight against John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence. But if Goss had a good explanation for his decision to bail, he could have shared it–even on a Friday afternoon. And if the reason is just old-fashioned anger over losing some of his power, he could have orchestrated a smoother transition. What led to his abrupt resignation should not be a top secret.

His departure is not necessarily a loss for the CIA. He brought in aides who were assailed as political hacks. Weeks ago, the Washington Post reported that the White House officials had asked the CIA to tell them the political affiliations of senior CIA officials. (Why would the White House want that information?) Representative Jane Harman, the senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee, pointing to all the experienced hands who have left the agency after Goss took over, recently complained that “CIA is in a free fall.” And Goss has hardly inspired confidence–in the agency or his own leadership. Last year, he said in a public speech that he was overwhelmed: “The jobs I’m being asked to do, the five hats that I wear are too much for this mortal. I’m a little amazed at the workload.”

Well, Goss is hanging up those five hats–and prompting suspicion that there are other shoes (or high heels) to drop.