In Your Face at the CIA

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SPYMASTER The new director has called his approach “tough love.” Others feel he’s trying to get the agency to toe the policy line

If the CIA's master spooks in the 1950s had designed the perfect spy — someone they could groom from the start and then send out into the cold, only to have him return years later to save the agency at its most critical hour — he would have looked a lot like Porter Goss. Reared in Connecticut, Goss prepped at Hotchkiss, studied Greek at Yale and spent the 1960s in the agency's clandestine service, overseeing covert operations in Latin America and Europe. His years as a spy left little trace on his resume. He quit the CIA in 1971 after a mysterious case of blood poisoning nearly killed him. Goss settled down to a quiet life as a newspaper publisher on Florida's Sanibel Island for the next 17 years and then, in 1988, ran for a seat in Congress and won. His tenure in Washington was unremarkable — at least until three months ago, when George W. Bush tapped him to go back and run the CIA. Almost as if the old boys had planned it, Porter Goss was coming in from the cold.

But Goss has so far turned out to be anything but a company man. In less than two months as CIA chief, he has turned the agency's clandestine-operations wing upside down, sparking the resignations of some of its highest-ranking officers, alarming even reform-minded lawmakers on Capitol Hill and turning the heads of White House officials who prefer their housecleaners to do things quietly. It has been difficult to tell if Goss was orchestrating a loyalty purge or making an example of some of the CIA's best operatives. Either way, Goss has unleashed a costly spectacle that must at least amuse the likes of Osama bin Laden, still at large more than three years after 9/11: CIA officers and their many retired allies in the private sector working the phones and fax lines to warn the world that Goss's cure may be worse than what afflicts the nation's 57-year-old spy factory. "Anytime you've got top people dropping like flies when we're facing serious risks, you have to be concerned," says Senator Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. "Goss and his team came in thinking some substantial changes needed to be made. Even assuming that's true, it needs to be implemented in a way that doesn't impair our function in time of war."

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A running gag in Washington last week held that Langley, the CIA's longtime home in Virginia, was changing its name to Fallujah — the question wasn't whether the place was eventually going to be cleared of rebels, but how many would be killed in the process. But beyond the bravado there was no joking about what was really going on and why. The turmoil at the CIA was unfolding just as Bush was consolidating his power all over Washington in classic second-term fashion. The President wasted no time after his re-election reining in the two other agencies that haven't always been on the White House's page — the State and Justice departments — by naming longtime personal aides to run them for the next four years (see following story). The CIA overhaul had actually begun a few months earlier, when Bush named Goss, 65, to succeed George Tenet, who was adored by agency personnel but resigned after seven difficult years. Tenet spent a lot of time in his final years defending the agency against criticism for a string of intelligence failures — and through a combination of charm and bluster keeping a lid on the simmering tensions between the CIA and the White House.

That was almost a full-time job. For months, the Administration, along with just about everyone else, was piling on complaints: the agency's spies failed to clearly see bin Laden's army gathering over the horizon back in 2001, failed to realize that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and underestimated the strength of the postwar insurgency in Iraq. In response, the spooks whispered that the President's aides were too quick to blame the agency for their own mistakes of judgment. The agency had repeatedly warned both the current Administration and its predecessor about bin Laden, they said; the agency's doubts about the existence of WMD were not hidden (if you looked deeply enough into the footnotes of the intelligence community's official estimates on Iraq); and although the details of the CIA's warnings have not been made public, there are indications that it predicted that a postwar Iraq would be something other than a walk in the park. "A lot of people did, by and large, warn the White House about the aftermath," says a former agency official.

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