New Chief Sets Off Turmoil Within the C.I.A.

By DOUGLAS JEHL

New York Times

November 14, 2004

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13 - Deep, unresolved tensions between new leaders and senior career officers at the Central Intelligence Agency threaten to set off a rebellion within the agency's clandestine service, according to current and former intelligence officials.

The tensions pit the new intelligence chief, Porter J. Goss, against the C.I.A.'s directorate of operations, the most powerful and secretive part of the agency. Winning allegiance from the career spies within the clandestine service is widely regarded as essential to the success of any intelligence chief.

For now, former intelligence officials say, many career C.I.A. officers do not know whether to regard Mr. Goss as someone dispatched by the White House to punish the agency for past failures, or to rebuild its capabilities to make it stronger.

The officials said discontent had reached a point not seen at the C.I.A. for more than 25 years, and they expressed concern that an atmosphere of ill will and apprehension could distract the agency from its work in the fight against terrorism.

The tensions have become particularly acute within the agency's directorate of operations, which is responsible for global covert operations, the officials said. Mr. Goss has described the directorate as dysfunctional, but after seven weeks on the job, he has not yet announced personnel changes or set a clear new course, the former intelligence officials said.

Among those at the center of the storm, the officials said, are Steven R. Kappes, who as deputy director of operations is the most senior official still in place from the team at the agency before George J. Tenet resigned as director, and Patrick Murray, a former House Republican aide who is Mr. Goss's new chief of staff.

John E. McLaughlin, the agency's No. 2 official, announced his retirement on Friday afternoon. Mr. McLaughlin had long been expected to step down, and he described his departure as a "purely personal decision." But a former intelligence officials said that Mr. McLaughlin had also warned Mr. Goss on Friday that the tensions had reached a dangerous point, and that Mr. Kappes was threatening to resign, in part because he regards Mr. Murray as undermining his authority.

The Washington Post reported on Saturday that Mr. Kappes had submitted a letter of resignation but had agreed to delay any decision until Monday. A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment.

Current C.I.A. officials are prohibited from talking to reporters without explicit authorization. The former intelligence officials who agreed to discuss the matter in recent days and weeks would do so only on the condition of anonymity, saying that they did not want to inflame the situation further by speaking for the record. The former officials included both supporters and critics of Mr. Goss's work.

Among those who expressed sympathy with Mr. Goss, several described his task of bringing change to the operations directorate without provoking a rebellion as an enormous challenge. These officials said they believed that Mr. Goss had been thrown off course by an early misstep, when he named an aide, Michael J. Kostiw, as agency's No. 3 official. Mr. Kostiw quickly withdrew from consideration after former intelligence officials mentioned that he had resigned from the C.I.A. in the early 1980's after an administrative leave in connection with a shoplifting case.

"Goss really needs to go in there and clean house," one former official said. "But he can only do that if it's clear that the White House is behind him."

But Mr. Goss's critics among the former officials said that his failure to forge alliances among career officials and to enlist them in setting a new direction for the agency had been highly detrimental. "You can make changes and cast them in the right way, and people will salute and go along with you," one former C.I.A. official said. "It doesn't look like that is happening."

A second former C.I.A. official said: "There's no clear direction from Goss. Does he want people to go west, south, east or west? Nobody knows."

The former officials described morale within the directorate of operations as at the lowest point since the late 1970's, when Stansfield Turner, the director of central intelligence under President Jimmy Carter, imposed changes that forced many officers at the directorate to retire.

At the heart of the tensions is resentment felt at the C.I.A. over criticisms of the agency's performance, particularly on Iraq and its illicit weapons. Many intelligence officials believe the C.I.A. has been unfairly blamed by the White House and Congress for what now appear to have been exaggerated prewar depictions of Iraq's arsenals.

Mr. Goss said in a private speech to agency employees in September that he was determined to encourage greater risk-taking within the operations directorate, as well as other changes intended to improve intelligence collection worldwide. But some former intelligence officials say that any attempt by Mr. Goss to make major changes, particularly in terms of personnel, would be unwarranted.

In some ways, the tensions now evident at the C.I.A. are an outgrowth of those seen since the summer between the White House and the agency over Iraq. After news reports disclosed classified intelligence estimates that cast doubt on rosy assessments of progress in Iraq and the war on terrorism, the White House blamed the C.I.A. for the leak and some Republicans cast the agency as disloyal.

As a former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and as President Bush's appointee, Mr. Goss is regarded by many within the agency as someone whose primary allegiance lies with the White House.

Mr. Goss's most significant appointments have come in his selection of Mr. Murray, Mr. Kostiw and two other House Republican aides as senior advisers with broad but unspecified authority. Another has been the choice of a veteran C.I.A. logistics officer as the agency's executive director to fill the No. 3 post initially set aside for Mr. Kostiw.

So far, the new executive director has been identified only as Dusty, because he has worked under cover for most of his career. But that has not stopped some former intelligence officials from grumbling that his background does not qualify him to be the agency's day-to-day manager.