TOPICS > Politics

Porter Goss Resigns as Head of CIA

May 5, 2006 at 6:10 PM EDT

JEFFREY BROWN: More turmoil at the CIA, which has seen a lot of it since 9/11. We get two perspectives on the Goss resignation.

Mark Lowenthal was an assistant director of central intelligence for analysis from 2002 to 2005 and served on the staff of the House Intelligence Committee, where Porter Goss was chairman. He’s now president of the Intelligence and Security Academy, which provides training in analysis for the government.

James Bamford has written widely on U.S. intelligence. His most recent book is called “A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies.”

And welcome to both of you.

MARK LOWENTHAL, President, Intelligence and Security Academy: Thank you.

JAMES BAMFORD, Author, “A Pretext for War”: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Lowenthal, starting with you, how much of a surprise was this resignation?

JAMES BAMFORD: Actually, in the last week, there were a lot of rumors going around that this was going to happen, so I would say that, for some people, it was not a surprise.

JEFFREY BROWN: Not at all?

What do you think, Mr. Bamford?

JAMES BAMFORD: Well, it was a surprise to me. I think it was a surprise to a lot of people. However, there was a lot of rumors going around for some time that John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, wanted to start exercising some muscle and putting some of his own people in.

He inherited Porter Goss, so this was an opportunity to start putting his own team in place.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, as Jim said in the news summary, Mr. Lowenthal, there were reports about an agreement with Mr. Negroponte. What does that mean? What do you think?

MARK LOWENTHAL: Well, I think, as Jim said, we’re still working out what the relationship looked like between the new DNI, Negroponte’s job, and now the person who only runs the CIA. And this was the first two men to have this job. And so we’re still working that out, and so it’s not that surprising that, after this transitional period of a year that Negroponte’s been the DNI, that you would have a change coming on.

New roles for CIA and director

Mark Lowenthal
Intelligence and Security Academy
He was following George Tenet, who had been director for seven years and was a very formidable figure in his own right, and that was going to be difficult no matter what.

JEFFREY BROWN: Explain to us a little bit more about what this transition entails. What is the new role of the CIA and of the director?

MARK LOWENTHAL: Well, Porter Goss was the 19th and last director of central intelligence, which meant that he ran the CIA and he also had overall responsibility for the entire intelligence community.

He came into office in September 2004 when Congress was already debating whether or not to create what became the DNI, which would have removed the community job from the DCI and given it to somebody separate, separating him from the agency, and leaving the CIA job as separate.

And that's what happened to Porter Goss. And so he ended up -- he had this very difficult transition from one job to the other, from running the entire community to running an agency.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Mr. Bamford, what did he accomplish in this tenure?

JAMES BAMFORD: Well, there are a number of things. One of the areas that he focused on, I think, was analysis.

There was a big problem with weapons of mass destruction, obviously, in the lead-up to the war in Iraq. And one of the areas that he focused on was finding new ways, better ways, to evaluate sources so that, before when you had people that came forward with information, there wasn't much way to evaluate how credible that information was.

And you had sources like Curveball, who had very bad information. And I think one of the ways he tried to do that was to create an evaluation system to give a better evaluation of who these sources are, what their backgrounds are, and get that information widely distributed throughout the intelligence community, the people who were actually going to be using the information, to show them how credible these people are before they begin using their information.

JEFFREY BROWN: How do you assess his accomplishments?

MARK LOWENTHAL: Well, I think the president had it right when he said that Porter is going to be remembered as a transitional figure, which I don't mean as a knock, but you have to remember the context in which he took over the agency.

He was following George Tenet, who had been director for seven years and was a very formidable figure in his own right, and that was going to be difficult no matter what. As Jim just said, the agency -- CIA more than any other agency with being held responsible for 9/11 and for Iraq WMD. And moral had suffered because of that.

And then there was this difficult period when he wasn't sure, would he be the DCI? Would there be a DNI? Would he be the DNI? And that lasted from September to April. That's a third of his tenure right there. And then suddenly he's not the DNI; he's the DCIA.

And the fourth thing that happened on his watch, was what Jim referred to, this massive building up of the community again, after 10 years of severe losses. Fifty percent of the analysts in the intelligence community have less than five years' experience. And so all...

JEFFREY BROWN: Less than five years?

MARK LOWENTHAL: Less than five years. And so all of this is happening when he takes over, and that's just a huge array of issues to face, and I don't care who you are. And so I think that's why the president said what he said in the Oval Office today.

Goss faced problems within the CIA

James Bamford
I think Porter Goss got off right from the very start on the wrong foot by immediately bringing over a number of his staffers who worked for him in the House, House Intelligence Committee.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, what about the problems that occurred that perhaps have lead to this resignation? I mean, one thing that got a lot of attention was the shake-up at the top. And I think I read almost -- it said almost all of the senior leadership at the agency has turned over since the departure of George Tenet. Tell us about that.

JAMES BAMFORD: It was a very traumatic time. And I think Porter Goss got off right from the very start on the wrong foot by immediately bringing over a number of his staffers who worked for him in the House, House Intelligence Committee.

And what he should have done was -- you know, if he wanted to bring him over, bring him over a few months later or whatever. The first thing he should have brought in was a very senior person to be his deputy, a General Hayden-type of a person, as opposed to bringing his staffers over.

So, immediately, they began getting a reputation. One of the terms was "Hitler youth" that they used to call these people for...

JEFFREY BROWN: Hitler youth within the agency?

JAMES BAMFORD: Within the agency, right, for these people because they came in and, like bulls in a china shop, they started breaking the china and making people very angry that these people were outsiders coming in, telling them what to do, firing people, changing people's positions, and so forth, so that was a very bad start.

I mean, as a matter of fact, one of the people who we brought over from the House Intelligence Committee had previously worked at the CIA about 10 years earlier and then been fired for, of all things, getting caught stealing some bacon from a Safeway, I think it was.

So it was a very bad stumble when he first got there, and I don't know if he ever really recovered totally from that.

JEFFREY BROWN: And yet, Mr. Lowenthal, part of the mandate that you're talking with about was to shake up the agency.

MARK LOWENTHAL: Absolutely. I think that's what the president told him to do, in part. Relations between the community and the White House had gotten very bad in 2004.

There were lots of news articles saying that the White House perceived the CIA to be at war with the agency, which struck a lot of us as very odd. But so I think there was this sense that he had to sort of, you know, get control of the situation very, very fast.

And the intelligence community and the CIA is a very hard place to get control of. It treats most people as outsiders, and it treats most outsiders as bacilli, as, you know, something -- "Let's just wrap them up, and put swaddling around them, and keep the place safe."

And so it's difficult; it's a hard place to get control of. And, again, part of the problem, you know, as you were talking about, all of the seniors leaving, this, in part, had to do, again, with the fact that George Tenet had been there so long that you had a lot of people who knew they were going to retire and they were just waiting for him to go.

So a lot of people sort of left in his wake, and so it was part of this interesting transition.

JAMES BAMFORD: I think there was also a cultural change, too. George Tenet was a very personable person, back-slapping, walked down the hallways with an unlit cigar in his mouth and waved to people, and bang on somebody's door, and go in to see him.

And Porter Goss was more of a laid-back, sit in his office, and let his staff go out and deal with the personnel. So I think that affected personnel morale, also.

Changes within the CIA

JEFFREY BROWN: Bottom-line question here is, is the CIA a better place now for what it's supposed to be doing than it was a couple of years ago in the midst of all the criticism? What do you think, Mr. Bamford?

JAMES BAMFORD: Well, I think it's better, because they've made some positive changes, as I've mentioned, on the analysis, for example.

However, the other side of the coin is that morale is, you know, going down the tubes at this point, because of a lot of the criticisms over the changes that Porter Goss made and now another transition. You've had two directors now who are resigning within a few years time.

So there's two ways of looking at it; I think there have been positive changes, but, on the other hand, there's been some morale problems.

JEFFREY BROWN: How do you see it?

MARK LOWENTHAL: I think they're still in the middle of a very difficult transition, that this young workforce is a severe problem. They are missing years of analysts who never showed up, were never hired, because of bad budgets.

I think the morale after 9/11 and Iraq was problematic. I don't think they're over that yet.

And I think there's a sense in the CIA that they have lost a lot of status because of the creation of John Negroponte's office, that they really were central, that their boss ran the community, and now their boss is just the head of another agency. And I think they're still dealing with this perceived loss of status in the building.

Who should head the CIA?

JEFFREY BROWN: There was no mention of a possible successor today. What kind of person should take that role?

MARK LOWENTHAL: Well, I used to say that the DCI, the job that Porter first had, had an audience of one, and that was the president. The DCIA has an audience of two: It's the president and John Negroponte.

So the main issue is you have to have somebody in there who knows something about intelligence, preferably, who can manage a large organization, and who has the confidence of the DNI and the president. Beyond that, its a very individualized job.

It's also a very difficult job. Porter was the 19th director. Nine of them had tenures of two years or less, including Porter. That's sort of interesting, that almost half of them did not survive two years in the job.

JAMES BAMFORD: I think that the only guarantee is that the new director is not going to come from Capitol Hill.

JEFFREY BROWN: Not coming from Capitol Hill, you mean after the Porter Goss example?

JAMES BAMFORD: After Porter Goss, right, sort of been there, done that. It's time to find somebody someplace else in the intelligence community or outside the intelligence community, but not from the House or the Senate.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. James Bamford, Mark Lowenthal, thank you both very much.


JAMES BAMFORD: My pleasure.