Facing criticism that his first year as CIA chief has been marked by a lack of direction, Porter J. Goss said Thursday that the agency has expanded its presence overseas, ramped up recruitment of Arab Americans and other ethnic groups, and reduced its reliance on foreign intelligence services.
In remarks broadcast to agency employees around the world, Goss sought to highlight accomplishments during a tumultuous year in which the CIA’s role was sharply diminished by post-Sept. 11 reforms, and a parade of high-level officers quit after clashes with Goss and his leadership team.
Despite the tumult, Goss said the CIA had made “real progress in all the areas that have called out for improvement.” In particular, he said the agency has deployed more case officers overseas. “We opened new stations and bases, and we’ve reopened some old ones,” he said.
Goss did not elaborate. But other officials said the agency had reestablished stations in Latin America and other regions where personnel had been withdrawn in recent years as part of its response to the Sept. 11 attacks, and to meet the demands of the war in Iraq.
Goss also indicated that the CIA is developing “new cover arrangements overseas,” meaning that the agency is seeking to have more officers posing as businessmen, scientists or other positions outside U.S. embassies.
“Pinstripes work in some places,” Goss said, “but not everywhere.”
Goss delivered the town hall-style address in an auditorium at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., two days shy of the anniversary of his swearing-in as director. A transcript was released by the agency Thursday night, although it did not include a question-and-answer session with agency employees that followed.
The speech came at a time when Goss is facing new questions about his leadership.
Robert Richer, second-ranking official in the agency’s clandestine service, abruptly announced his retirement earlier this month, telling colleagues that he lacked confidence in Goss’ management and likening the director to an “absentee landlord,” according to former intelligence officials close to Richer.
Richer is the latest in a series of senior officers in the CIA’s directorate of operations to quit after clashing with Goss and senior members of his staff. In November, the two top officers in the directorate resigned after confrontations with Goss’ chief of staff, Patrick Murray.
“The [directorate of operations] has probably lost hundreds of years of experience in just a few human beings,” said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Harman said she has met in recent months with CIA officers overseas who have expressed “confusion and concern” with Goss’ leadership and the overall decline in the agency’s standing. “Morale is low in the field and that worries me,” Harman said.
After his speech, Goss fielded pointed questions from agency employees about Richer’s departure, but did not address details of Richer’s case.
But even critics of Goss acknowledge that he stepped into the job at an exceedingly difficult time. His tenure coincided with the first major overhaul of the intelligence community in half a century.
When John D. Negroponte was sworn in as director of national intelligence in May, Goss saw many of the most prestigious aspects of his job stripped away. He lost authority over other spy agencies, relinquished the duty of briefing the president every morning, and was no longer routinely invited to meetings of the White House National Security Council.
At the same time, the CIA surrendered key functions and personnel to newly created intelligence “centers” set up to track terrorist and weapons proliferation threats.
Goss described the transition as “the single greatest change that the agency has embraced” since its inception after World War II. He also said that he welcomed the change because “the job had become frankly too big for one person,” and that he was now able to focus on agency operations and reforms.
He said the agency has continued to have “substantial but quiet success in our efforts in the global war on terror,” and is weaning itself of its dependence on foreign intelligence services. In recent years, the CIA has doled out hundreds of millions of dollars to intelligence services in Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere as it has sought information on terrorist networks.
“We have gotten more unilateral, though still not as much as I’d like,” Goss said.
He also said the agency is streamlining the way it recruited employees, aiming to hire “more recent arrivals to the United States and those with a lot of foreign travel.” Because of the accompanying security concerns of such job candidates, he said the changes represent “a huge divergence from the way we have always done things.”
Other officials said that despite a surge in applications since the Sept. 11 attacks, the CIA has missed recruiting goals in recent years, partly because viable candidates were being dismissed if they didn’t conform to rigid hiring guidelines, including rules that generally prohibited the CIA from hiring applicants over age 35.
The troubles led to the replacement of officers in charge of recruiting for the clandestine service, and the relaxing of the age limit and other hiring guidelines. Officials stressed that security checks remain stringent.