Resignations Mark Power Struggle Within CIA
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MARGARET WARNER: Something of a war has broken out between the new head of the CIA, former Republican Congressman Porter Goss, and some high-level officials in the agency, and the leaks and counter-leaks of housecleaning, purges, and partisanship are flying.
On Friday, 32-year CIA veteran John McLaughlin, who was acting director for two months last summer, resigned. Another reported resignation: the deputy director of the agency’s clandestine branch, the directorate of operations, Stephen Kappes, though news accounts said Goss and the White House asked Kappes to reconsider.
The same news reports said McLaughlin and Kappes quit after warning Goss that four aides he brought from Capitol Hill two months ago were treating senior CIA managers so disrespectfully that wider resignations could follow. The former chief of the bin Laden unit also quit last week.
For more on this early Goss-era turmoil, and whether it will help or hurt U.S. intelligence capabilities, we turn to two people who have worked closely with Porter Goss on Capitol Hill: Congresswoman Jane Harman, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Welcome to you both.
Jane Harman, let me begin with you. You’ve known Porter Goss a long time, you have oversight responsibilities for this agency. Yesterday you said you thought perhaps it was in freefall. What is going on over there?
REP. JANE HARMAN: Well, I’m not consulted about these changes, Margaret. But I am very disturbed by them. I think Porter Goss has every right as the president’s nominee and someone confirmed overwhelmingly by the Senate to change the agency. And I might like those changes or I might not, but he has a right to make them.
It’s the way he’s making them that concerns me. It’s also where he’s making them. The directorate of operations, which is the spy service of the CIA, is not the crowd that wrote the national intelligence estimate on Iraq that was wrong, and it’s not the crowd that lost the clues leading up to 9/11, either.
It’s the crowd that has people in the field, with whom I visited last week, who are excellent, and who are our eyes and ears in the Middle East, for example, trying to figure out where this insurgency is going in Iraq, and what we can expect in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and what we should be doing with respect to Israel and Palestine now that we have an opportunity for peace.
I want these folks to succeed. And with all this turmoil here, I worry that they’re being undermined.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Chambliss, what’s your take on what’s going on?
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Well, what Jane and I both know is that the No. 1 problem at the Central Intelligence Agency today is the fact that we’re pretty risk-averse out there. We’re not doing a very good job of gathering intelligence through human assets.
Porter Goss has committed himself during the hearing process to rebuild our human asset part of the Central Intelligence Agency from an intelligence-gathering standpoint. I don’t know how he needs to do that. But I know this: I know what we’ve got out there in the last several years is not working.
We know that we’ve had massive intelligence failures, and Jane and I both talked about this on TV, and virtually every member of the oversight committees in the House and Senate have talked about. So there are changes that must be made to correct the problems out there.
Who should go and who should stay is up to the management, and I don’t think it’s up to the oversight committee. So I’m fully supportive of Chairman Goss and his capacity now as director of the CIA to make sure that we rebuild that human — our human intelligence aspect of the CIA, and to make what changes are necessary to accomplish that.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me ask you that. I take your point that you think the directorate of operations — there are problems in that, in the spy wing. Have you seen evidence, just from your position, that in fact Porter Goss has taken action to hold certain people accountable? I mean, has he actually fired anyone, for instance, or removed anyone?
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: I’m like Jane, I have not been there, I have not been consulted by these folks as to the type of action that they’re taking, and we shouldn’t be. And, you know, this is an inside baseball game within a very secretive agency, and it must remain that way.
But the fact of the matter is that he has vast experience in the intelligence community both from a legislative standpoint, as well as having been a former — or being a former CIA operative himself. So he well knows what changes need to be made. And if he’s asked for resignations, I’m sure it’s from the right people.
REP. JANE HARMAN: Well, let me add to that, though, Margaret. He did ask for the resignation of the — I think he’s called the chief of staff of the agency, a few weeks ago, a guy named Buzzy Krongard who was a business fellow brought in by George Tenet, and he proposed to replace him with one these former staffers the House Intelligence Committee. It then leaked that this particular fellow had some dirty linen in his closet…
MARGARET WARNER: Was this the one who had a shoplifting arrest 20 years ago?
REP. JANE HARMAN: This is the fellow named Mike Costy, whom Saxby and I both worked with, I believe, when we were in the House Committee together. By the way, we were on the House Committee together at a time when the committee was extremely bipartisan.
We worked with some of these staffers, the ones that went over with Porter Goss, but not with all of them. And the staff at that time functioned very well on a bipartisan basis, so it’s not that it’s impossible to happen. It broke down in the last two years, maybe it’s because Saxby Chambliss went to the Senate, I’m not quite sure.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, congresswoman, let me ask you about that staff, because yesterday on one talk show or other you said that — and of course a lot of the criticism is that they’ve been sort of arrogant and ham-handed and they’re inexperienced, and you have got a lot of anonymous leaking, let’s be clear about that, going on.
And you said you all on the Hill weren’t sorry to see them go. Why not?
REP. JANE HARMAN: Well, this group of four that are in the news were a little unit over in the House side after Senator Chambliss left. And they are, and I really don’t want to make this more personal than I have, I said that they were inexperienced managers who had ruffled a lot of feathers on the Hill on a bipartisan basis, and I stand by those comments.
That’s what they are. And they came over with Porter Goss as a unit, and they are his management staff. And that has ruffled a lot more feathers. Maybe what needs to happen is for this team to be augmented with more experienced managers, some of which are within the CIA ranks now.
That might make these changes, that Porter Goss has a right to make, go down better. And it isn’t clear to me, by the way, exactly where he’s headed with these changes.
I just want to say one thing about the human service, the spy service. It is true that we had an inadequate human intelligence capability in the ’90s. I’m sure Saxby and I, we always have agreed on this and we still agree. But it is also true that this is being fixed since 9/11, and we’re recruiting a lot more good people.
I just saw those people in the field in the Middle East, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Israel last week. I saw the new recruits and I saw the chiefs of station in these states, and what I’m saying to you, Margaret, is they’re doing a lot better.
And to have folks making a much more successful effort to penetrate the tough targets, now have to think about whether they’re heads are going to roll, I think is the wrong way to go. I think personnel changes are fine, reorganization is fine. Most of us support a massive intelligence reorganization bill that’s winding its way through conference right now.
But sending signals that there are vendettas and all kinds of abrasive treatment of people is, I think, wrong when we’re in the midst of a war and we’re finally growing a new crop of good people.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Chambliss, let me ask you, too, about another angle on this story that again has been mostly from leaking former and current officials, but has made its way into news accounts and also columns, one by David Brooks just last Saturday, that Porter Goss is under direction from the White House to clean out the anti-Bush agency folks who have been leaking reports that have been critical of, for instance, the president’s handling of Iraq.
Do you and, first of all, do you and other Republicans, and do you know if Porter Goss feels, that in fact there is a problem in the agency, and that there has been a kind of secret guerrilla war against the president, and that those people should be pushed out?
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Well, I’m sure there are some folks at CIA who didn’t vote for George Bush. But I’m sure that that’s the same case in every other federal agency. So, you know, that’s a great thing about our country: You can do your job and you can have your own political beliefs.
You shouldn’t carry them to the job with you, and I have no reason to think that that’s happened at the CIA.
That’s not what this is all about. It’s not anti-Bush. This is about doing what’s necessary to rebuild the morale at the CIA, to rebuild the human aspect of our intelligence-gathering agency, and to do whatever is necessary to make sure that we’re in a position to do the best job of the gathering intelligence around the world.
And I don’t think there are any vendettas being carried out. I know the four staffers personally, one of them was my personal staff director on the committee that Jane and I headed, and he’s a good guy, and he’s a smart guy, and he’s tough, and he has the best interest of the United States at heart and the best interest of the agency at heart.
So this always happens when you have an upheaval. You have some folks who are moved out of a position who may not understand why they’ve been moved. But, you know, I think when you have leaks and anonymous sources going to the press and complaining about being moved around, let go, whatever it may be, that pretty well tells you the character of that person.
That tells you why they’re being moved around.
MARGARET WARNER: Congresswoman, do you have any evidence, or has anyone come to you that tells you that there is a kind of partisan purge going on here?
REP. JANE HARMAN: I hope not. I would agree with Saxby’s comments. I think that the people working at the CIA are true patriots and they take enormous risks, especially those in the field.
And I always try to thank them personally when I’m out there, and we both did that together many times, and I try to do it from here as well. So, no, I don’t think that’s going on, but leaks have been a problem for years. They didn’t start in this election.
MARGARET WARNER: But, I mean, do you think that some of those people are targets now of either the Bush White House or Director Goss because of those leaks?
REP. JANE HARMAN: Well, I don’t know. I would say again that leaking is bad. I don’t know which rumors to believe, and I am hoping that this is part of a sensible plan.
But at the moment, what it looks like, sadly, Margaret, is that the directorate of operations, which is a spy service which has begun to heal itself since 9/11, is the target of this purge, and it doesn’t make much sense to me, given the fact that these are not the folks who brought us the faulty intelligence reports that led up to 9/11, or led to the mistaken view that they were stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in Iran… in Iraq.
MARGARET WARNER: So senator, what do you say to that point the congresswoman has made a couple times now that whomever is at fault here, that this kind of turmoil, the morale problems it causes are the wrong thing to have going on right now when the U.S. is really occupied in this not only war on terrorism, but a war in Iraq and a complicated operation in Afghanistan?
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Well, sometimes you have to make tough decisions, and those tough decisions create some turmoil immediately in the short range.
But in the long range, they help morale, they boost the morale of those folks who are in the field as well as those folks at the headquarters, in this case of the CIA I don’t know whether there’s been any immediate upheaval other than from those folks who are the anonymous people that are going to the media. I have not seen any indication of that.
On the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as the House Intelligence Committee, we have frequent contact with CIA personnel, both at the field level as well as at the headquarters level.
And I simply have not seen that. So I hope that what’s going on is the necessary purging that we need to have of those folks who are not doing their job, not for political reasons, but for the reason we’re not protecting Americans in the way we should be.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay, we only have 30 seconds. I want to ask you quickly, if your old friend Porter Goss were to call and to say, you know, “this is sort of getting out of control, what should I do,” what would be the two-sentence answer you’d give him, congresswoman beginning with you?
REP. JANE HARMAN: Well, I’d tell him to build a stronger management team. He’s a guy who, at least to quote him in the newspaper yesterday, says he doesn’t do personnel.
Well, this whole reform effort that he’s undertaking is about personnel. So if he doesn’t do personnel, he needs a support system that does personnel with some finesse, rather than a sledge hammer. That would be my advice.
And one more thing. There’s an accountability review that is in the IG’s office at the CIA that Congress has asked for; it names names. I’d love to get that up to the Hill so we can see the individual people who actually did play a role in the problems leading up to 9/11. Maybe those are the folks who should be moved out.
MARGARET WARNER: And Senator, what would be your brief word of advice to Porter Goss?
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: I would say, “Porter, when you took this job you knew that outside of being president it’s the toughest job in Washington, DC. You’re going to have more hard and tough decisions to make, and you’re going to catch more flack from the media, both inside and outside the agency.
I hope you’ll make the right decisions, and I hope you’ll do the best job of making sure that my children and grandchildren live in a safe and secure America, because I know that you’re going to do it.”
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Senator, congresswoman, thank you both.
REP. JANE HARMAN: Thank you, Margaret.
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Thanks.