An internal war at the CIA
A public war between a president and his intelligence arm is never good news. But with the war against the insurgency in Iraq at a critical juncture, and Osama bin Laden making his ominous presence known, it is perhaps the worst of times for the Bush administration and its spies to be at odds.Skip to next paragraph
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Still, government officials and outside experts say, the long-simmering tensions between the White House and CIA are erupting into an unseemly period of recriminations and resignations.
Most of the team that led CIA covert operations overseas have left government service, several after former Rep. Porter Goss (R) of Florida - also a former CIA case officer - took the helm seven weeks ago with a promise to revamp the less-than-productive foreign spy program.
At the heart of the conflict is the way the reform process mandated by both the White House and Congress is being handled. Is the team Mr. Goss brought with him from his House Intelligence Committee employing the finesse necessary to continue operations while enhancing the spies' performance?
"If they want to make this thing work, they've got to convince these senior officials that change is a good thing and convince them to help," says Art Hulnick, a former senior intelligence official who lived through a similar situation between the CIA and Carter administration when then-CIA director Stansfield Turner was charged with reforming the spy program. "But if they do it by wielding a broad sword, cutting off the heads of people who can help them, then it will fail."
Former and current intelligence officials say they haven't seen this level of discontentment within the bowels of the agency for at least 25 years. And they worry what impact this may have on the United States' global war on terror.
On Monday, Stephen Kappes, deputy director of clandestine services, quit, as did associate deputy director of operations Michael Sulick. On Friday, the agency's No. 2, John McLaughlin, a 32-year veteran analyst and former acting director, resigned. And earlier this summer, director George Tenet left, followed by James Pavitt, the man who led the agency's day-to-day counterterrorism activities.
Mr. McLaughlin's retirement was not unexpected. But the departure of Mr. Kappes is considered a blow to the Goss team's reforms, and is reportedly the direct result of a clash with Patrick Murphy, Goss's chief of staff.
"The perception abroad is there is a lot of turmoil at senior levels," says Mike Scheuer, a senior counterterror official who left the agency this past Friday because he disagrees with the way the administration is handling the war on terror. "And the perception in the building [CIA headquarters] is that there are these kinds of failed agency officers returning to exact their revenge from people who've made it in the agency."
Both McLaughlin and Kappes were well-liked and respected among the workforce, Scheuer and other former and current intelligence officials say.
McLaughlin was "beloved," and Kappes was especially respected among the overseas workforce, Scheuer says. "He has a reputation for being a very straight shooter. He's a former Marine who's done a lot of hard things overseas - he's the first qualified Director of Operations in more than a decade."