CIA Chief’s Ouster Points to Larger Issues

Times Staff Writer

Distracting battles over bureaucratic turf. Sinking morale in the spy ranks. Another CIA director, his reputation battered, heading for the door with a long list of unfinished tasks.

The ouster of CIA Director Porter J. Goss on Friday underscores the extent to which major pieces of the U.S. intelligence community are still in disarray despite -- or in some cases because of -- well-intentioned efforts to fix them.

More than 4 1/2 years after the nation’s spy services failed to prevent the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the services continue to be plagued by problems -- including rivalries over resources, trouble sharing information and a reluctance to take risks -- that are proving resistant to change.


But Goss’ departure also exposes what some intelligence officials and experts believe is a fundamental flaw in the intended reforms. They point to the decision to create a director of national intelligence -- a position held by John D. Negroponte -- but to give him little direct control over the CIA or other agencies he oversees.

That structure “in my view was a mistake, and I think this is beginning to show why that is so,” said Mark Lowenthal, who served as an assistant CIA director under Goss as well as under Goss’ predecessor, George J. Tenet.

“Negroponte is divorced from all the agencies he’s supposed to manage,” Lowenthal said. “He’s discovered that the CIA really is central and that he can’t do his job effectively if he doesn’t feel the CIA is being run well.”

Goss was pushed out by Negroponte after clashes between them over Goss’ management style, as well as his reluctance to surrender CIA personnel and resources to new organizations set up to combat terrorism and weapons proliferation.

Negroponte is widely expected to consolidate control of the CIA by dispatching his top deputy to run the agency. Congressional sources said Saturday that the White House was poised to nominate Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, No. 2 in Negroponte’s office, as CIA director as early as Monday.

The maneuvering reflects recognition that even though the CIA has lost much of its clout, the agency still plays a central role in the war on terrorism. The CIA remains in charge of human intelligence collection around the world, controls covert operations, and produces much of the analysis provided every day to the president and senior policymakers in government.


For decades, the CIA director was also in charge of coordinating the activities of other intelligence agencies. But Congress voted in 2004 to strip away that function as part of a sweeping overhaul based on recommendations of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks.

Proponents argued that the CIA director needed to focus exclusively on managing the agency. But skeptics, including Tenet, warned that splitting the jobs would create a dangerous bureaucratic distance between the nation’s intelligence chief and the organization responsible for carrying out its most sensitive spying operations.

The White House denied Saturday that President Bush had lost faith in Goss. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters traveling with the president to Oklahoma that Goss had “helped transform the agency to meet the challenging times we’re living in.” Goss took the helm at the CIA in September 2004, with the ambition of re-energizing the agency.

But Goss’ ouster was the clearest indication yet of the level of frustration within the Bush administration over the pace of progress on a range of issues. These issues include redeploying resources in the fight against terrorism and weapons proliferation, and accelerating the flow of information across an often unwieldy constellation of spy agencies.

Goss’ resignation came just 19 months into his tenure, and his departure is likely to trigger a major reshuffling of the agency’s senior ranks.

The churning has not been limited to the CIA.

At the intelligence arm of the FBI, Maureen Baginski, a top National Security Agency official recruited by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III in 2003 to develop a new intelligence operation in the bureau, resigned last summer after just two years on the job. Her resignation came after criticisms of the bureau by a special presidential commission on intelligence, and a decision to make the agency more accountable to the director of national intelligence.


Just last month, the chief of the FBI’s National Security Branch, which oversees the agency’s intelligence-gathering and counter-terrorism operations, announced that he was retiring to take a job in private industry. A 29-year FBI employee, Gary Bald had been in the national security post only nine months. An FBI spokesman said the departure was unrelated to any problems with Negroponte.

If Hayden becomes the new CIA director, he is expected to push the agency to be more willing to share resources and information with other services -- changes that Goss was seen as less enthusiastic about.

“I would expect to see a real strong effort to bring the agency more fully engaged with the rest of the intelligence community,” said retired Vice Adm. Thomas Wilson, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency and a longtime associate of Hayden’s. “Always, one of the issues with the CIA was its unwillingness to share information and sources. I would think [Hayden] would try to further the progress that has been made” in breaking down interagency barriers.

Current and former CIA officials said Hayden would probably be welcomed by the staff because he was a career intelligence officer without the political background of his predecessors, including Goss, who was a Republican member of Congress from Florida before taking the CIA job.

But Hayden has little experience with human intelligence operations -- the core mission of the CIA -- and could face a difficult confirmation fight in the Senate because of his involvement in a controversial domestic espionage operation authorized by President Bush. Hayden was previously director of the National Security Agency, which for the last four years has eavesdropped on international phone calls and other communications of U.S. residents. Hayden has played a leading role in publicly defending the program, which the White House has described as narrow in scope and meant to allow monitoring of calls involving people suspected of being linked to Al Qaeda.

A senior Republican Senate aide, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said: “We’ve expressed some concerns” to the White House over the prospect of a Hayden nomination, largely because of the controversy surrounding the National Security Agency program, but also because of other criticisms of his stewardship of the agency.


Hayden has been faulted for computer systems the National Security Agency purchased during his tenure that have cost billions of dollars but have yielded disappointing results. He has also been criticized for placing greater emphasis on improving agency monitoring of China at a time when Al Qaeda had emerged as the nation’s preeminent threat.

Times staff writers Richard B. Schmitt and Peter Wallsten contributed to this report.