Bringing Change, Not by the Book
CIA Officials Let Critic Publish
By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 25, 2004; Page A04
In his first television interviews in June, an anonymous CIA analyst made a splash not only because he was a novelty but also because he was accusing the CIA of failing to adapt to al Qaeda's changing structure.
By August, as the presidential campaign heated up, the author of "Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror" was chastising the administration for the war in Iraq. "I'm not an expert at all on Saddam or WMD or Iraq," he told Channel NewsAsia, "but as it factors into the war against al Qaeda and al Qaeda-ism, it was a tremendous gift to bin Laden."
Some administration officials and others in the national security world viewed the unusual interviews from a CIA employee as a sly move by departing CIA Director George J. Tenet to retaliate against the White House for letting his agency take so much heat for the failed prewar judgments on Iraq and other missteps.
But two former CIA officials and the author himself said four top managers at the agency, not including Tenet, made the decision to let "Anonymous" publish and give interviews. The officials said they did so only because they feared that the author would resign, earning even more attention for a work they viewed as partly ludicrous. They said the agency underestimated how the book would play in the presidential campaign.
Nevertheless, the fallout over Michael Scheuer's comments -- he began using his name just before leaving the CIA this month -- provided the latest example of how some in the White House and their allies, on one side, and the CIA, on the other, have come to believe that each is out to take down the other.
By the time a new CIA director, Porter J. Goss, took over on Sept. 24, "both sides were primed to be offended," said a former senior CIA official who admires Goss.
Now, Goss's every gesture is being magnified through the lens of suspicion and apprehension as he undertakes the kind of bureaucratic change that would be difficult under any conditions.
"There is probably no doubt that Porter Goss was given a mandate to bring this organization around," said Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence committee. He said that "to do it smoothly would have taken more time. Porter knows the people. He knows the agency, and he obviously believes there hasn't been enough change since September 11. I support him."
"There is some internal tension. The key is how Porter manages it," Hoekstra said. "The question becomes, do you pull so hard you break the rubber band."
The debut of the Goss era was bound to be painful even without suspicions by some that Tenet's successor was arriving to carry out a White House-directed purge. Reeling from criticism over the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and faulty intelligence on Iraq, the CIA had lost its biggest public defender, Tenet, in July. By contrast, Goss, when chairman of the House intelligence committee, had publicly lashed out at CIA deficiencies more than once.
Tension rose with a rumor that Goss had a hit list of 80 employees and the retirement of an unusually large number of people when he took over. Following Tenet out the door were officials in charge of security clearances, personnel and recruiting, global logistical support, internal management, legislative affairs, and public affairs.
Then, two weeks ago, the director of operations quit, as did his deputy, after a blowup with Goss's chief of staff, Patrick Murray, who is perceived by some longtime CIA officials as disrespectful of many people who have spent their lives there. This week the chiefs of the European and South Asia divisions "submitted their papers," according to former and current CIA officials.
"The place is boiling," one longtime CIA officer said. "People think it's slash and burn."
While Goss has largely remained silent about his plans and strategy, his latest attempt to calm the waters has backfired. In an e-mail to employees on Monday, Goss said "as agency employees we do not identify with, support or champion opposition to the administration or its policies."
Some employees interpreted the message as a clampdown on dissent. Other CIA employees and the CIA public affairs office said it was a restatement of the agency's obvious mission as an executive branch agency and adviser to the president.
"It was more like a clumsy effort to say, 'It's our job to supply the facts to the president,' " said Frederick P. Hitz, a former CIA inspector general. "There have to be changes, but 'housecleaning' is a strong word."
Against this backdrop, CIA employees worry that the White House believes the agency has turned into a den of Democrats, a notion that is laughable to many career employees who witnessed the closeness between Tenet and Bush.
"They're paranoid," one former official said of the White House.
John McLaughlin, deputy director of the CIA, took the unusual step of responding to the tumult with an op-ed article in yesterday's Washington Post that was headlined "The CIA Is No 'Rogue' Agency."
He acknowledged allegations that CIA employees leaked information to hurt the president. But McLaughlin said he knew "beyond a doubt . . . that the CIA was not institutionally plotting against the president, as some allege. The accusation is absurd."
Even Scheuer, whose book is deeply critical of the CIA leadership, has been taken aback by the attacks on the agency. Waiting in the Green Room on Sunday to appear on NBC's "Meet the Press," Scheuer said he found himself face to face with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who had earlier described the CIA as a dysfunctional, rogue agency.
"I told him, 'Sir, I'm a Republican, I vote Republican, and I thought your comments were scurrilous,' " Scheuer said in an interview.
Scheuer said the group of people who decided to allow him to publish his book included A.B. "Buzzy" Krongard, the CIA's executive director; Stephen R. Kappes, deputy director for operations; Scott White, deputy for analysis, Scheuer's immediate supervisor at the counterterrorism center; and Phil Mudd, deputy director of the center.
One former agency official involved in the decision-making said the book represented Scheuer's personal opinion and contained nothing classified. Neither Tenet nor McLaughlin took part in the decision, Scheuer and the former CIA official said.
The CIA "decided it was better to let him vent than resign and go off and say things," the former official said.
Once he did, Scheuer said, colleagues let him know there was a move afoot "to seize my royalties" in retaliation.
When Scheuer, who was required to inform the CIA about his interviews after the fact, began having numerous sessions with the same reporters that were never published, the CIA figured he was no longer talking about the book. It then imposed onerous prior permission rules, which he could not meet.
Scheuer said he tried to refocus his media interviews but reporters mostly wanted to talk about Iraq.
At the end of July, Bill Harlow, the head of CIA public affairs, called him in. "This is affecting the president, you're getting involved in the election. The agency is being interpreted as not being evenhanded," Scheuer said Harlow told him.
Harlow said in an interview that the agency's leadership explained to Scheuer that his comments to the media were "inappropriate for a currently serving intelligence officer."
"No one was happy about what he was saying," said the former CIA official. ". . . This is a problem of unintended consequences."