By KATHERINE SHRADER
The Associated Press
Saturday, October 8, 2005; 8:18 PM
WASHINGTON — It’s no secret that the CIA’s spooks are in turmoil. To some, the intelligence agency’s future looks bleak under the leadership of Director Porter Goss. Fights between top CIA managers and Goss’ inner circle are spilling into public view. Veterans are retiring early. Report after report is critical of the CIA’s performance.
In a town hall-style meeting late last month, Goss endured some uncomfortable moments when agency employees criticized his leadership, demanding more details about where Goss intends to take the CIA.
One worker politely asked for more detail after Goss’ opening remarks, which she deemed rather "vanilla." Goss returned to that word in responses to later questions: "Is that too vanilla for you?" he asked.
Goss, a former Republican congressman from Florida who replaced George Tenet in September 2004, is making waves as he fulfills promises to the White House and Congress that he would make the CIA respond better to terrorism and other modern threats.
Supporters say it is exactly what is needed at an agency wanting to looking ahead, not back. Detractors hope he’ll retire.
Goss curried some favor among the rank and file when he announced Wednesday that he would not form review boards to consider punishing individuals for failures before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
President Bush has directed the CIA to hire 50 percent more analysts and officers over the next several years. That could mean the addition of several thousand people.
At the staff meeting, Goss said the CIA will bring in recruits who have traveled abroad and "more recent arrivals to the United States." Historically, such backgrounds would make it difficult to get a CIA job because of security risks and other concerns.
Goss also plans to reduce the bureaucracy at headquarters, send more people into the field for traditional spying, rely less on foreign allies for intelligence, take more risks and encourage employees to improve their foreign language skills.
"As we start out today in the intelligence world … we start out a little behind the curve," Goss said Thursday at the opening of the University of Maryland’s language institute. "Not enough people speak the languages we need."
Jim Pavitt, who headed the CIA’s clandestine service from 1999 to 2004, said the agency was already making many of the changes Goss is pushing, including boosting the number of officers overseas. He said Goss, as the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was told about the CIA’s strategy.
"We’ve been working on this since 1997," said Pavitt, now with the Scowcroft Group, an international business consulting firm. "Stop saying that this is something new."
CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise Dyck agreed that in some cases Goss is building on critical initiatives, but she said there’s a ways to go.
Still, some in Congress say the plan they were given is vague.
"I want to know the specifics," said California Rep. Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. She also is concerned about low morale at the CIA, especially among officers in the field.
Goss’ moves are known to be causing heartburn among CIA personnel, but defenders said that is to be expected with any major organizational changes.
"I am not surprised at all by a public food fight," House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., said in an interview. "In some ways, I take that as Porter doing his job."
The commotion began almost as soon as Goss took over, bringing along committee aides.
Within weeks, CIA managers with decades of intelligence experience left after fighting with Goss’ advisers. Only last month, the No. 2 official in the clandestine service, Robert Richer, quit. Details of the disputes spilled into the news.
Goss’ allies said it was time for new blood _ and a new director _ after seven years with Tenet in change. Some Democrats, however, wondered aloud whether Goss was too political for the job.
He arrived in time for change. Last fall, congressional efforts begun after Sept. 11 to reorganize the 15 U.S. intelligence agencies gained momentum.
By December, lawmakers had created a national intelligence director who would oversee all those agencies. Until then, the CIA director had that job.
Goss acknowledged that his responsibilities for running the CIA and other agencies were massive. "I’m a little amazed at the workload," he said in March.
In a brief interview this summer, Goss said he spends considerable time on management issues and the fight against terrorism.
That includes "staying up on what is going on around the world _ the eyes and ears of it _ and what we do about it," Goss said. "The nature of the threat is changing dramatically. When you get right down to it, there are still unknowns."
Under Goss, the clandestine service has scored victories. It provided Pakistan with information that led to the capture of al-Qaida’s No. 3 leader, Abu Farraj al-Libbi, in May. Shortly thereafter, his associate Haitham al-Yemeni was killed by a missile fired from a CIA drone aircraft.
But Goss wants to lower the agency’s profile. He learned early on that officials generally make news when they speak publicly. Among other changes, he has ordered new rules governing how agency employees can publish books and articles, centralizing the decisions under one office.
Richard Kerr, a former CIA deputy director who led a review of the Iraq intelligence for Tenet, said he does not have the impression that Goss has inspired the organization’s full confidence.
"It’s a leadership issue. How do people perceive you?" Kerr said. "I am concerned about people with limited experience running large and complex organizations."