WASHINGTON -- After President Bush nominated him to be Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), Rep. Porter Goss walked across the Capitol to meet with a senator he hardly knew and who had criticized him: John McCain. There he received advice confirming his determination to take a course that soon became the talk of Washington.
McCain told Goss the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is "a dysfunctional organization. It has to be cleaned out." That is, the CIA does not perform its missions. McCain told Goss that as DCI, he must get rid of the old boys and bring in a new team at Langley. Moreover, McCain told me this week, "with CIA leaks intended to harm the re-election campaign of the president of the United States, it is not only dysfunctional but a rogue organization."
Following a mandate from the president for what McCain advised, Goss is cleaning house. The reaction from the old boys confirms those harsh adjectives of "dysfunctional" and "rogue." The nation's capital has become an echo chamber of anti-Goss invective with CIA officials painting a picture for selected reporters of a lightweight House member from Florida, a mere case officer at the CIA long ago, provoking high-level resignations and dismantling a great intelligence service.
Veteran CIA-watchers such as McCain regard the Agency as anything but great and commend Goss for taking courageous steps that previous DCIs avoided. George Friedman, head of the Stratfor private intelligence service, refers to Goss's housecleaning as "long overdue."
That cleansing process has been inhibited by the CIA's fear factor as an extraordinary leak machine. Its efficiency was attested to when Goss appointed Michael V. Kostiw, recently staff director of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Terrorism, as the CIA's executive director. Before Kostiw could check in at Langley, the old boys leaked information that Kostiw was caught shoplifting in 1981 after 10 years as a CIA case officer.
Kostiw then resigned the Agency's third-ranking post, though Goss retained him as a special assistant. Kostiw's treatment has enraged people who have known him during a long, successful career in Washington -- including John McCain. The senator called Kostiw "one of the finest, most decent men I have ever met."
The story fed by Goss's enemies in the Agency is that dedicated career intelligence officers have been replaced by Capitol Hill hacks. Their real fear is that Goss will put an end to the CIA running its own national security policy, which in the last campaign resulted in an overt attempt to defeat Bush for re-election (intensifying after George Tenet left as DCI ).
I reported on Sept. 27 that Paul R. Pillar, the CIA's national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, told a private dinner on the West Coast of secret, unheeded warnings to Bush about going to war. I learned of this because of leaks from people who attended, but many other senior Agency officials were covertly but effectively campaigning for Sen. John Kerry.
That effort seemed to include "Imperial Hubris," an anonymously published attack on Iraq War policy by CIA analyst Michael Scheuer. He has since left the Agency, but he was still on the payroll when the CIA allowed the book to be published. The Washington Post on Election Day quoted Scheuer as saying CIA officials muzzled him in July only after they realized that he was really criticizing them, not the president. "As long as the book was being used to bash the president," he said, "they gave me carte blanche to talk to the media."
Traditional bipartisanship in intelligence has been the victim, with Democrats cheering the CIA Bush-bashing. Rep. Jane Harman, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, abandoned pretense of bipartisanship, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the Senate committee's vice chairman, never pretended. Both are attacking their former colleague who is now DCI.
McCain's use of the word "rogue" carries historical implications. A long, debilitating time of troubles began for the CIA in 1975 after Sen. Frank Church called it "a rogue elephant" that is out of control causing trouble around the world. The current use of the word refers to the intelligence agency playing domestic politics, which is an even more disturbing aberration.