WASHINGTON (Reuters) -CIA chief Porter Goss, assigned to rebuild the U.S. spy agency after the twin intelligence breakdowns of September 11 and Iraq, quit under pressure on Friday after less than two years on the job.
President George W. Bush gave no explanation for the move, which a senior administration official said Bush had been discussing with Goss’ boss, national intelligence director John Negroponte, for the last few weeks.
Administration officials told CNN on Friday that Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, principal deputy director of national intelligence, would replace Goss. Sources also told The New York Times and Time magazine Web sites that Hayden was a leading candidate for the post.
Goss has come under fire inside and outside the agency during a difficult tenure.
Senior administration officials told The Washington Post that Bush decided to replace Goss months ago. Negroponte met with Goss last month and told him to prepare to leave by May, the newspaper reported on its Web site, quoting officials with knowledge of the conversation.
The president is pursuing a shake-up of his staff in an attempt to present a new face for his team and rebound from sagging poll numbers. He now faces the difficult task of finding a high-profile candidate prepared to take over an agency in turmoil.
The CIA lost clout when it fell under a newly created director of national intelligence as part of reforms in response to intelligence failures over the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
An administration official said tensions between Negroponte and Goss resulted as the new intelligence arm sought to assert itself over the CIA and met opposition from the spy agency.
Mounting tensions came to a boil when Negroponte decided that many counterterrorism analysts from the CIA should be moved to the relatively new National Counterterrorism Center that was created as part of intelligence reforms.
Goss objected because he believed that would erode the CIA’s capability, an intelligence official said. “He was standing up for the agency.”
At his confirmation hearing in September 2004, Goss said the CIA chief should have direct access to the president, a role the national intelligence director adopted for himself.
But he also pledged to restore luster to the agency where he once worked. “My attitude toward the intelligence community and, I guess, my alma mater, the CIA, is one of tough love,” he told Congress.
The resignation resulted from a “mutual understanding” among Bush, Negroponte and Goss, the senior administration official said.
“The best way to describe it is when you ask somebody to do very difficult things during a period of transition, it often makes sense to hand off the reins to somebody else to take the agency forward,” the official added.
The announcement was made in the Oval Office, with Goss and Negroponte by the side of the president.
“Porter’s tenure at the CIA was one of transition. He’s helped this agency become integrated into the intelligence community. That was a tough job. He’s led ably,” Bush said.
Goss quickly became the object of intense dislike among some career intelligence officers, particularly those in the clandestine service, who left the agency in large numbers.
“Thank God,” was the reaction of one former senior spy who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It’s gotten so bad there, it’s just a charade at the moment. There’s no senior leadership.”
One intelligence source said, “You have to know how to transform the agency without making an enemy of it.”
Goss, brought in after George Tenet resigned in the face of mounting criticism of his handling of intelligence before the Iraq war, said the CIA was “on a very even keel, it’s sailing well.”
“I honestly believe that we have improved dramatically your goals for our nation’s intelligence capabilities, which are in fact the things that I think that are keeping us very safe,” Goss said with Bush at his side.
But Goss had his critics, including a number of former colleagues on Capitol Hill, where he served between 1989 and his appointment to the CIA post.
“I’ve never been as concerned about our nation’s security as I am this week,” U.S. Rep. Jane Harman (news, bio, voting record) of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said on the floor of the House last week.
“We still don’t have a handle on al Qaeda,” she said. “Our intelligence reorganization is in a slow start-up, and the CIA is in free fall.”
Asked who should be the next CIA chief, former CIA Director Stansfield Turner told Reuters, “I think they want someone with managerial experience, not an academic, not a politician. Somebody who has managed sizable organizations.”