From almost his first day as Director of the CIA, Porter Goss was in trouble with the intelligence establishment. Long time employees who had reached the zenith of their careers prior to 9/11 – especially in the clandestine services – and who were wedded to a culture that demanded very little and rewarded those playing it safe, were at first puzzled, then outraged at Goss’s reform measures. By all reports, those measures cost the agency dozens of senior managers whose expertise many of those left behind are saying will be sorely missed in the coming months and years as the United States is forced to deal with rogue states seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a continuing terrorist threat, and other challenges in Russia, China, and South America.
Indeed, Goss was not hired to “reform” the CIA as much as he was picked to grab it by the throat and shake it vigorously. But why? What kind of culture existed that needed shaking up in the first place?
The CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence retained some of its original character of a university gone to war. Its men and women tended to judge one another by the quantity and quality of their publications (in this case, classified publications). Apart from their own peers, they looked for approval and guidance to policymakers. During the 1990s and today, particular value is attached to having a contribution included in one of the classified daily “newspapers”- the Senior Executive Intelligence Brief-or, better still, selected for inclusion in the President’s Daily Brief.76
The CIA had been created to wage the Cold War. Its steady focus on one or two primary adversaries, decade after decade, had at least one positive effect: it created an environment in which managers and analysts could safely invest time and resources in basic research, detailed and reflective. Payoffs might not be immediate. But when they wrote their estimates, even in brief papers, they could draw on a deep base of knowledge.
When the Cold War ended, those investments could not easily be reallocated to new enemies. The cultural effects ran even deeper. In a more fluid international environment with uncertain, changing goals and interests, intelligence managers no longer felt they could afford such a patient, strategic approach to long-term accumulation of intellectual capital. A university culture with its versions of books and articles was giving way to the culture of the newsroom.
Is it any wonder these guys missed 9/11? Or the India and Pakistan nuke tests of 1998? Or any one of a number of other intelligence flops, failures, and missteps along the road to war with Iraq?
The fact is, the CIA does not foster a results oriented culture. Again, the 9/11 Commission:
Yet at least for the CIA, part of the burden in tackling terrorism arose from the background we have described: an organization capable of attracting extraordinarily motivated people but institutionally averse to risk, with its capacity for covert action atrophied, predisposed to restrict the distribution of information, having difficulty assimilating new types of personnel, and accustomed to presenting descriptive reportage of the latest intelligence. The CIA, to put it another way, needed significant change in order to get maximum effect in counterterrorism. President Clinton appointed George Tenet as DCI in 1997, and by all accounts terrorism was a priority for him. But Tenet’s own assessment, when questioned by the Commission, was that in 2004, the CIA’s clandestine service was still at least five years away from being fully ready to play its counterterrorism role. And while Tenet was clearly the leader of the CIA, the intelligence community’s confederated structure left open the question of who really was in charge of the entire U.S. intelligence effort.
And while it is true that the end “product” of intelligence analysis is necessarily vague and full of qualifiers, the fact is that by all reports, the analyses on the terrorist threat, on al Qaeda, on Bin Laden, and now on Iran have been uniformly poor thanks to a watering down process that occurs between those whose job it is to analyze these threats and those whose job is preparing and presenting the intelligence product to policymakers.
The 9/11 Commission calls this effort “playing it safe.” In any large bureaucracy – in the public or private sector – one does not advance their career by going against the grain or thinking outside the box. What this means specifically for the Agency is that lower level analysts who work long hours consuming massive amounts of raw intelligence have their analyses picked over and shaped by more senior managers in order to have them conform to Agency thinking. Couple this with a shocking disdain held by many of these managers for the policymakers and elected officials who consume their end product and you have a recipe for failure.
This is the culture that Porter Goss was hired to shake up. According to many, he not only went about it the wrong way but demoralized the Agency in the process:
Porter J. Goss was brought into the CIA to quell what the White House viewed as a partisan insurgency against the administration and to re-energize a spy service that failed to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks or accurately assess Iraq’s weapons capability.
But as he walked out the glass doors of Langley headquarters yesterday, Goss left behind an agency that current and former intelligence officials say is weaker operationally, with a workforce demoralized by an exodus of senior officers and by uncertainty over its role in fighting terrorism and other intelligence priorities, said current and former intelligence officials
“Now there’s a decline in morale, its capability has not been optimized and there’s a hemorrhaging of very good officers,” Brennan said. “Turf battles continue” with other parts of the recently reorganized U.S. intelligence community “because there’s a lack of clarity and he had no vision or strategy about the CIA’s future.” Brennan added: “Porter’s a dedicated public servant. He was ill-suited for the job.”
The above is quoted from Dana Priest’s largely one sided article in today’s Post. But even friendly Republicans on the Intelligence Committees echo the criticism that Goss didn’t appear to have an overall strategic goal for the Agency, that he delegated too much to his aides. In this respect, it could be that Goss was not tasked with long term planning as much as he was put in place to rock the boat and see who fell off. In the proudly independent operations directorate, he appears to have had the most “success” at least from the standpoint of fulfilling his goal of turning the culture inside out. Estimates of early retirees from the ranks of overseas postings are between 30 and 90 Station Chiefs as well as other top level operations employees.
Of course, it was no secret that one of the major reason Goss was hired was to ferret out leakers and, as much as possible, put a stop to efforts by active duty personnel to undermine Administration policy on the Iraq War:
Goss’s counterinsurgency campaign was so crudely executed by his top lieutenants, some of them former congressional staffers, that they drove out senior and mid-level civil servants who were unwilling to accept the accusation that their actions were politically motivated, some intelligence officers and outside experts said.
“The agency was never at war with the White House,” contended Gary Berntsen, a former operations officer and self-described Republican and Bush supporter who retired in June 2005. “Eighty-five percent of them are Republicans. The CIA was a convenient scapegoat.”
Perhaps a couple of different perspectives on the idea that “The agency was never at war with the White House” would be in order:
The Daily Telegraph 10/10/04:
A powerful “old guard” faction in the Central Intelligence Agency has launched an unprecedented campaign to undermine the Bush administration with a battery of damaging leaks and briefings about Iraq.
The White House is incensed by the increasingly public sniping from some senior intelligence officers who, it believes, are conducting a partisan operation to swing the election on November 2 in favour of John Kerry, the Democratic candidate, and against George W Bush.
Jim Pavitt, a 31-year CIA veteran who retired as a departmental chief in August, said that he cannot recall a time of such “viciousness and vindictiveness” in a battle between the White House and the agency.
John Roberts, a conservative security analyst, commented bluntly: “When the President cannot trust his own CIA, the nation faces dire consequences.”
The Wall Street Journal 9/29/04:
Then there’s the book by “Anonymous,” a current CIA employee who has been appearing everywhere to trash U.S. policy, with the approval of agency higher-ups. And now we have one Paul R. Pillar, who has broken his own cover as the author of a classified National Intelligence Estimate this summer outlining pessimistic possibilities for the future of Iraq.
That document was also leaked to the New York Times earlier this month, and on Monday columnist Robert Novak reported that it had been prepared at the direction of Mr. Pillar, the National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia. Mr. Novak reported that Mr. Pillar identified himself as such during an off-the-record gathering last week and, while denying he leaked the document, accused the Bush Administration of ignoring the CIA’s prewar speculation about the consequences of war with Iraq. Others have since confirmed the thrust of the Novak report.
Keep in mind that none of these CIA officials were ever elected to anything, and that they are employed to provide accurate information to officials who present their policy choices for voter judgment. Yet what the CIA insurgents are essentially doing here, with their leaks and insubordination, is engaging in a policy debate. Given the timing of the latest leaks so close to an election, they are now clearly trying to defeat President Bush and elect John Kerry. Yet somehow the White House stands accused of “politicizing” intelligence?
Former NSA Chief Admiral Bobby Inman:
I was utterly appalled during the 2004 election cycle at the number of clearly politically motivated leaks from intelligence organizations â€” mostly if not all from CIA â€” that appeared to me to be the most crass thing I had ever seen to influence the outcome of an election. I never saw it quite as harsh as it was. And clearing books to be published anonymously â€” there was no precedent for it. I started getting telephone calls from CIA retirees when Bush appointed Negroponte, talking about how vindictive the administration was in trying to punish CIA, and I was again sort of dismayed by the effort to play politics including with information that was classified. What is the impact on younger workers who see the higher-ups engaged in this kind of leaking
Clearly, Priest and other reporters are downplaying the idea today that there ever was a conflict between the CIA and the White House and if there was, it was the fault of the White House. This idea is not supported by the facts. The tensions between the two factions were real and leaking done immediately prior to the 2004 election was unprecedented from a supposedly non-partisan Agency. One might argue that opposition to the Iraq War may not have been a partisan issue within the Agency. But leaking a classified pre-war analysis two days before the first Presidential debate that showed the Administration had been “warned” about the unstable post-war environment in Iraq could have one purpose and one purpose only; to hurt the President politically. If there is another definition of partisanship, I’d like to hear it.
If some senior and mid-level civil servants were “unwilling to accept the accusation that their actions were politically motivated,” are they saying that Goss didn’t even have the right to ask that question? This would be ridiculous given the circumstances. Perhaps it says more about the egos of these men and women than it does about Goss himself that they resigned.
Porter Goss will not be remembered kindly by those in the CIA who are left behind. But if he was able to shake the agency up so that the next Director can actually build what the American people deserve – the best intelligence agency in the world – then he would have fulfilled a valuable purpose.