Members of Congress said Sunday that they were concerned about turmoil within the Central Intelligence Agency, following last week’s retirement of the agency’s deputy director and reports of more resignations to come.
“The agency seems in freefall in Washington, and that is a very, very bad omen in the middle of a war,” said Rep. Jane Harman of Venice, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Harman said she thought the reports of low morale at the agency were due to the four “inexperienced” House Intelligence Committee staff members who came to the CIA when Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), the committee’s former chairman, became director of central intelligence in September.
“Many of us worked with that staff in the House,” she said, describing the four as “highly partisan.... Frankly, on both sides of the aisle in the committee, we were happy to see them go.”
Harman said she thought Goss “deserves a chance to make changes at the CIA. But to do them effectively, he has to do them with an experienced staff, and he doesn’t have one.”
The director, she said, needs to get a management team in place that can improve the CIA without offending its staff or leading to “hemorrhages, at the highest level, of some talented people.”
Deputy Director John E. McLaughlin, who had been acting director of the agency before Goss took over, announced his retirement Friday, saying it was a “purely personal decision.”
The Washington Post has reported that Deputy Director of Operations Steven R. Kappes also submitted his resignation, but withdrew it for reconsideration over the weekend. News reports have indicated that changes sparked by Goss have led to widespread discontent at the agency.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that he thought Goss’ efforts to shake up the CIA were the right thing to do. He described it as a “dysfunctional agency, and in some ways a rogue agency.”
“This agency needs to be reformed,” McCain said, adding that Goss was “on the right track. He is being savaged by these people that want the status quo. And the status quo is not satisfactory.”
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, disagreed with McCain’s view, telling CNN’s “Late Edition” that Goss “apparently carried out a few things in a heavy-handed way or a precipitous way.”
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said on “Face the Nation” that changes were necessary at the agency, especially since the CIA failed the country by supplying inaccurate intelligence prior to the war in Iraq.
“I can tell you right now, when you tell the president of the United States that weapons of mass destruction is a slam-dunk in Iraq and [then] you tell the whole world you’re wrong, somebody needs to deal with the dynamic that led to us being so wrong. And if you have to hurt some feelings, so be it,” he said.
Graham also castigated Congress for failing to agree on legislation to overhaul the intelligence community, as recommended in the report by the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Harman, a member of the conference committee trying to negotiate a compromise between Senate and House versions of the intelligence bill, said the White House was working through the weekend to “try to force through a consensus that 75% of us agree on.”
The holdouts, she said, are a few Republican House members influenced by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. The Pentagon currently controls about 80% of the nation’s intelligence budget, and the restructuring plan proposed by the Sept. 11 commission and approved by the Senate would shift much of that authority to a new national intelligence director.
“The president is our commander in chief,” she said. “It is time, past time, for him to tell the secretary of Defense to stand down on this issue so that the will of Congress and the 9/11 commission can be implemented.”