Task for CIA's next chief: push Bush's agenda
To the president, streamlined intelligence is paramount.
The replacement of Porter Goss as head of the Central Intelligence Agency appears rooted in one presidential objective: to coordinate and streamline America's various intelligence agencies to "stop the terrorists before they strike."
Mr. Goss, who said Friday he would step down as CIA director after 19 months at the helm, reportedly defended the CIA's status quo too strenuously. In so doing, he ran afoul of John Negroponte, director of national intelligence who oversees 16 intelligence-related agencies, by balking at demands such as one to transfer several CIA senior counterterrorism officers to the newly created National Counterterrorism Center, which reports to Mr. Negroponte.
As a consequence, President Bush is likely to choose a CIA director more acquiescent to his streamlining goal - which may lead to a narrower role for the CIA. He is expected to tap, as early as Monday, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, a deputy to Negroponte and the former director of the National Security Agency (NSA).
"It would be key, from Negroponte's point of view, that there be no questions in the chain of command," says William Martel, an international security expert at Tufts University's Fletcher School of International Diplomacy in Medford, Mass. "My instinct is that Hayden will fit that mold well given his military background and that he's deputy to Negroponte."
The next CIA director faces a daunting task. The agency has lost much of its prestige, top people, and credibility since the reorganization of the intelligence community, which the 9/11 Commission had urged.
Goss, a clandestine operative himself in the 1960s who lately was a US congressman, became director in September 2004, vowing to change the environment within the agency and to place more emphasis on human intelligence - putting more clandestine officers in the field to steal secrets.
But the three staffers he brought with him from Capitol Hill clashed immediately with the top echelon in the CIA's Directorate of Operations, which oversees clandestine activity. That set off a series of departures of top and mid-level officials. Those who stayed "kept their heads down, because they didn't know from day to day what was going to go on," says Michael Scheuer, a former intelligence analyst who once headed the Osama bin Laden unit.
Morale, already low, plummeted further as Goss's team aggressively sought to identify the sources of leaks of classified information to the press, leading to a recent dismissal of a senior CIA official.
If nominated and confirmed, General Hayden will inherit the morale problems as well as the continued difficulties with collecting human intelligence. Criticisms of the CIA's performance - and recommendations for improvement in the aftermath of its failure to detect the 9/11 plot and its incorrect intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq - have focused on human intelligence.
Human intelligence is not a perceived strength of Hayden, who spent most of his career in the Air Force before heading the NSA, the government's eavesdropping agency.
Mr. Scheuer recalls a run-in with the NSA when Hayden was in charge. At the time, the early- to mid-1990s, Scheuer was chasing Bin Laden in Afghanistan and had requested "close-in SIGINT - World War II-era equipment, high- frequency radios, push-the-talk [like walkie-talkies] radios - because that's how they communicated in Afghanistan."
The NSA "couldn't do it," Scheuer says. "They were concerned with cutting-edge technology, the Internet, fiberoptic cables. So we were stuck and got no support from the NSA because they didn't want to do that old-fashioned stuff. But on the battlefield, that is what the enemy uses."
Senate confirmation is likely to be a difficult process for Hayden. He has been a staunch defender of the Bush administration's warrantless eavesdropping program, which he says has been used only to try to capture Al Qaeda-related terrorists, and lawmakers' questions about it are expected to be pointed, even hostile.
Although Hayden is more of a technical wizard than an expert on spies in trench coats, he is credited with overhauling the way the NSA collects and analyzes information. He shifted the NSA's target from the former Soviet Union and other cold-war enemies to the new terrorist and other assymetrical threats of this era.
The CIA doesn't need another politician, in the vein of Goss, says former CIA director Stansfield Turner. The intelligence community has that in Negroponte, with his connections with the president.
What's needed, Mr. Turner says, is "someone who can milk the best we can get out of the experts at the CIA, make sure they aren't overlapping with counterparts at other agencies, but at the same time make sure there are no gaps either."