What to make of Porter Goss and the turmoil at the Central Intelligence Agency? Slate’s Jack Shafer has run down the press leaks and the bureaucratic back-biting. But what do these squabbles, dismissals, and resignations mean for the state of U.S. intelligence? What does Goss want, and is what he’s doing the best way of accomplishing it?
First, it’s odd to see so much fretting over the departure of the top two officials from the CIA’s clandestine branch. These guys haven’t exactly been racking up trophies lately. The agency has been notoriously unsuccessful at mounting covert operations or penetrating hostile governments and terrorist organizations—at doing the sorts of things that clandestine branches do. If John Kerry had won the election, it’s a fair bet he too would have swept the broom at Langley.
In any case, the shake-up should have come as no surprise. As far back as 1998, just after the bombings of the U.S. embassies in East Africa, Goss—then chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence—said publicly what many insiders had long been whispering: that the CIA’s directorate of operations (the official name for the clandestine shop) was too “gun-shy.”
The more important question is what Goss will do with the agency’s analytical branch, the directorate of intelligence. That’s the branch where integrity and independence are vital. That’s where the Bush administration’s prime movers—Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld—stuck their fingers in the run-up to the war in Iraq, pressuring analysts to drop the maybes and on-the-other-hands from their reports about Saddam’s possible possession of weapons of mass destruction and connections to al-Qaida.
The personnel shufflings haven’t yet spread to the analytical shop. But signs are starting to point to a broad shake-up, charged by political motivations. And it’s in this context that Goss’ actions take on a darker tint.
Today’s New York Times, in a story headlined “New C.I.A. Chief Tells Workers to Back Administration Policies,” reports on a leaked memo that Goss circulated on Monday within the CIA “to clarify beyond doubt the rules of the road,” as the new director put it. The pertinent passage is this: “As agency employees we do not identify with, support or champion opposition to the administration or its policies.”
This directive reinforces a general uneasiness about Goss, who after all auditioned for his current job by doing political hackwork for the president. In June 2003, when Sen. Kerry—who was clearly running for president already—gave “a major speech” on national-security issues, the Bush-Cheney campaign tapped Goss to write the official critique. And he wrote a blazer, denouncing the speech as “political ‘me-tooism’ ” and complaining that Kerry “neglected the president’s historic achievements” and “remarkable progress” at combating terrorism.
Goss also helped Bush during the early days of the Joseph Wilson-Valerie Plame scandal. As chairman of a House oversight committee and as a former CIA case officer himself, Goss should have been dismayed that a White House aide might have exposed the identity of an undercover agent as an act of political retaliation against the agent’s spouse. But, although the Justice Department took the reports seriously enough to mount a grand-jury probe, Goss dismissed them as “wild and unsubstantiated” and added, as a jab at the Democrats, “Somebody sends me a blue dress and some DNA, I’ll have an investigation.”
It was because of such incidents, among others, that John D. Rockefeller IV, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, confided to aides last August—after Bush named Goss to be CIA director—that Goss was “too political” for the job.
This background to Goss’ appointment is what lends credence to the warning cries from the pros of Langley. Ordinarily, such cries might be suspect. Ensconced bureaucrats always panic when an outsider roars into the sanctuary, espousing radical change. When Robert McNamara took over the Pentagon in 1961 and started cutting weapons programs that didn’t pass his cost-benefit analyses, the uniformed military went berserk. Just as Goss brought along some arrogant young staffers from the House, McNamara brought in some arrogant young “whiz kids” from the RAND Corporation. Alain Enthoven, the 29-year-old whom McNamara made the assistant secretary of defense for systems analysis (a job that hadn’t existed before), told one senior Air Force officer who started lecturing him on a fine point, “General, I don’t think you understand. I didn’t come for a briefing. I came to tell you what we have decided.” To another, who started to argue with Enthoven about nuclear-war plans, he said, “General, I have fought just as many nuclear wars as you have.”
McNamara and Enthoven turned out to be right. The military services had been wildly extravagant about the way they’d been buying weapons. Maybe Goss and his whippersnappers will turn out to be right on whatever it is they’re trying to do, too.
But there’s a big difference. McNamara and his whiz kids didn’t work in John F. Kennedy’s election campaign. They’d never publicly lashed out against JFK’s opponent, Richard Nixon, or made snide comments about his predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower. They weren’t political people.
President Bush’s second-term Cabinet is shaping up to be not a collection of separate agencies but a political arm of the Oval Office. Bush’s appointments so far—Alberto Gonzalez at Justice, Condoleezza Rice at State, and today Margaret Spellings at Education—all come from his White House staff. This is a legitimate, if narrowly confining, style of leadership. But the CIA is different: Its success depends above all on whether its director can provide the president with disinterested analysis. So far, Porter Goss does not seem to be such a director.