05 Dec 2005

The Porter Goss CIA Shake-Out

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Left-wing author & journalist Robert Dreyfuss published an attack on Porter Goss a few weeks ago (10/Nov/2005) in the liberal American Prospect , which, nonetheless, supplies excellent backgound (and plenty of insider gossip) on the war inside the CIA:

Exactly as intended, Porter Goss has hit the Central Intelligence Agency like a wrecking ball… Since Goss took over, between 30 and 90 senior CIA officials have made their exit, according to various sources, some fleeing into retirement, others taking refuge as consultants. Others, unable to retire, have stayed, but only to mark time at the agency. Morale, already low after several years during which the CIA was accused of a series of intelligence failures related to September 11 and Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, is now at rock-bottom. The agency’s vaunted Near East Division, in particular, which served as the “pointy end of the spear,” as one CIA veteran put it, in simultaneous wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the “global war on terror,” has been decimated (sic).

CIA doves were accustomed to looking upon themselves as an enlightened guild of mandarins, the permanent professionals who advised unsophisticated and temporarily-elected executive administrations on the realities of international affairs, of how it really was, and on what was done and not done, old boy. The Bush administration was determined to govern, and the willingness of some of its conservatives to challenge the hegemony of entrenched liberal bureaucracies in the State Department and the CIA was revolutionary. Establishment members of the notoriously liberal CIA mandarinate found themselves being ignored by a bunch of arriviste Republicans, and they were absolutely furious. Like many liberal academics, they had resided for so long in a self-reinforcing community of the like-minded, in which their own viewpoint and prejudices flourished unchallenged, that they firmly believed in their own intellectual superiority and privileged access to objective truth. Unwelcome conservative dissent, particularly dissent arriving from positions of superior authority accompanied by demands for re-evaluations of cherished liberal articles of policy faith were perceived as outside pressure tampering with Agency process :

The partisan, pro-Bush nature of the current regime at the CIA was underlined when Goss issued a widely leaked memorandum telling agency employees to “support the administration and its policies in our work,” adding, “As agency employees we do not identify with, support, or champion opposition to the administration or its policies.”

The import of Goss’ memo to staff was not lost on agency veterans. “The meaning was that from now on, there is only one acceptable view, and that’s the neocon view,” said one. For many it was the final straw, convincing them that there was no hope of salvaging independent analysis.

Goss may have put the final nail in the coffin of an agency whose expertise and analytical skills were cavalierly overridden by a White House obsessed with Saddam Hussein. From 2001 on, its covert operatives and analysts were ignored, pressured, and forced to toe the administration’s line; neoconservative ideologues considered those operatives to be virtually part of the enemy camp. Many of those who remain inside the CIA are distraught, convinced that their work is wasted on an administration that doesn’t want to hear the truth. “How do you think they feel?” asked one recently retired CIA officer with three decades of experience. “They’re watching a ****ing idiotic policy, run by idiots, unfold right before their eyes!”

This outrage at the perceived slighting of professional expertise and interference with analytic process is what has led some very angry CIA officers and analysts to apply their skills and connections as participants in an organized operation aimed at destroying and removing specific adversaries including the Vice President, and at crippling an elected administration.


Not everyone with a CIA background shares Dreyfuss’ view of the Goss revolution as unmitigated disaster. Melissa Boyle Mahle, a former CIA operations officer and Intelligence author, who has a recently created blog writes:

Goss is doing what George Tenet could not and would not do, shedding the organization of the “old think” that led the Agency into playing it safe in the 1990s. After the Iran-Contra and Ames spying scandals, the Agency lost so much political standing that it began to implode organizationally and philosophically. Afraid to take risks that might offend Washington politicos and European allies after overstepping its legal bounds in the Iran-Contra era, gutted of the clandestine operators who knew how to run secret wars, exhausted from reform whiplash, and demoralized by criticism and poor performance, the CIA simply became unable and unwilling to get down and dirty to do the hard part to fight a real war on terrorism.

The CIA senior leaders today are those who came of age as managers during the 1990s and many unfortunately bring with them the mind-set of caution and political correctness. The culture of the Agency, particularly that of the Directorate of Operations, places a premium on organizational loyalty. The “old boy” network sticks together and resists changes that might alter its collective power and influence. The upheaval at Langley is a direct result of DCI Goss challenging the status quo, breaking some china and hitting the cultural brick wall.

Hat tip to Tom Maguire.

One Feedback on "The Porter Goss CIA Shake-Out"


Is there any task the CIA performs that can’t be assigned to the NSA or one of the multitude of Defense Dept. agencies? Can’t we just de-fund this sucker and send everyone home a half hour early, never to return? Virginia traffic will become practically tolerable.


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