US Secret Service Embattled

The abrupt resignation (ouster?) of Porter Goss as director of the Central Intelligence Agency lays bare the rocky state of America’s most prestigious secret service amid critical missions on three fronts, Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on al Qaeda.
The White House quickly denied US media reports that the CIA chief, entrusted 20 months ago with reforming the agency after the twin intelligence failures of 9/11 and Iraq, had been forced to quit. At a hastily called press conference Friday, President George W. praised Goss for his “help to make this country a safe place and help us win the war on terror.” But he inserted a barb: “Porter`s tenure at the CIA was one of transition.”
Goss insisted: “The agency is on a very even keel, sailing well”
However, that judgment is not shared by most intelligence watchers.
Indeed, debkafile‘s intelligence sources note the CIA is on its uppers in three vital spheres:
1.US forces are not getting to grips with either of the two segments of the Iraqi guerrilla insurgency: the mostly secular Baathists and the extremist Islamist Iraqi groups and al Qaeda. The continuous upsurge of violence in Iraq means the CIA has failed by and large to penetrate the most dangerous insurgent groups.
2. While the Taliban-al Qaeda rebellion rages in Afghanistan, Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s Iraq wing – far from being crushed – has in the last six months opened up new terror fronts in Sinai, Egypt, Palestinian territories and Algeria.
3. On Iran, the CIA comes up short on two interconnected issues: derailing Iran’s nuclear program with the help of local surrogates which, given the millions of expatriate Iranian exiles who detest the clerical regime, should pose fewer difficulties than penetrating al Qaeda. Secondly, American operatives should have been able to head off the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and intelligence agents who have permeated every corner of Iraqi politics and whose influence in Baghdad often prevails over the word from Washington – despite the presence of 135,000 US troops.
The CIA, like any service of its ilk, cannot handle its missions without superb counter-intelligence and clandestine services and the taking of operational risks.
When he took command of the agency from George Tenet in September 2004, Porter Goss started out by trying to steer the secret agency in the right direction for overcoming these grave shortcomings. His attempts to reform and shake up key personnel were quickly challenged by the upper and professional echelons, which meted out the treatment traditionally reserved for “outsiders.”
Goss spent 10 youthful years up until 1971 as a CIA spy. From 1989 up until his appointment as 19th director of the intelligence agency, he served on the House Intelligence Committee. No part of this record qualified him as an insider in CIA terms. He was dismissed as a Bush political appointee and his efforts to make changes met the sort of resistance the spy service’s core personnel have put up successfully for decades.
An obvious analogy is the case of Goss’s predecessor, President Bill Clinton’s nominee John Deutsch. Taking office in May 1995, he believed like Goss that if he brought in his own people – who came to be dubbed “Deutschland” – he would be able to fend off the internal pressures and intrigues besetting any external new broom.
However, the career echelon cold-shouldered him (some of them because he was a Jew) and after 19 months he threw in the sponge.
From the 2005 appointment of John Negroponte as Director of National Intelligence – the post of czar of all US spy agencies created after the Sept. 11 al Qaeda attacks – the new CIA director’s days were numbered. Traditionally the agency chief is first among his peers in the other American undercover services. Although the two had been friends, Negroponte’s appointment upset that internal balance and further weakened Goss in his struggle with the agency veterans. When the inevitable clash occurred, the president favored the czar.
The CIA chief’s departure will not make life easier for Negroponte but rather put him and indirectly the president on the spot. The intelligence overseer ranks in CIA terms as an outsider even more than Goss. A career diplomat, he comes from the posts of ambassador to the UN, followed by the embassy in Baghdad. He will come up against the same difficulty as the departing director when he sets about implementing the necessary overhaul to adapt the agency to post-Sept. 11 challenges.
The Director of National Intelligence may try inserting as a cushion his principal deputy, Air Force General Michael Hayden 61, in the top CIA slot, hoping that as an accredited member of the rarefied spook community he gets better treatment than Goss. Hayden was director of the National Security Agency in 2001 and in charge of the controversial wiretapping program of conversations with suspected overseas terrorists without a warrant. But it is by no means certain that Negroponte’s remedy is the cure.

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