The Central Intelligence Agency is reported to be in turmoil. The top two managers of the agency's clandestine service have quit, as have several other high-ranking career officials. The reasons for some of the resignations are murky.
As a secret spy agency, the CIA always prefers the shadows to the spotlight. But it finds itself in the glare of publicity yet again as newly installed CIA director Porter Goss takes up his post.
The agency's top clandestine services officer, Stephen Kappes, and his deputy, Michael Sulick, turned in their resignations Monday. The second-in-command at the CIA, John McLaughlin, resigned last week, citing personal reasons.
Michael Scheuer, who headed the CIA unit tracking Osama bin Laden and who had anonymously written two books, also quit the agency last week in order to speak publicly. In a VOA interview, he says news of the high-level resignations swept quickly through the corridors of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia outside Washington.
"The rumors were flying in the agency," he said. "Did it have something to do with personal confrontations? Was it a housecleaning based on a perception that somehow the CIA favored the Democratic Party and not the Republican Party? I certainly hope that the latter is not the case because I think it's an inaccurate opinion."
A Congressional committee, headed by former Congressman Goss, and the commission investigating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were both highly critical of the performance of the CIA and other agencies prior to the attacks.
Some accounts say an abrasive manner by Director Goss and his aides towards the clandestine service sparked the resignations. Others allege that Mr. Goss has embarked on a partisan purge for perceived agency bias against President Bush and his policies.
Republican Senator John McCain says Mr. Goss has every right to put his own imprint on the CIA, and that the new director is being unfairly demonized by entrenched career employees at the spy agency.
"He is being savaged by these people that want the status quo," said Mr. McCain. "And the status quo is not satisfactory. This is a dysfunctional agency and in some ways a rogue agency."
Congresswoman Jane Harman, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says changes are needed at the CIA, but adds that Director Goss is going about it in a needlessly abrasive manner.
"He should be doing them in a way that sends positive signals through the ranks and doesn't have all kinds of people quitting and talking to newspapers," advised Ms. Harman.
However, former CIA official Michael Scheuer says career spies are angry that the clandestine service has, in his words, been made a scapegoat for intelligence lapses on Iraq and the September 11 plot.
"I think the main thing is an accumulation of frustration within the clandestine service over the way it's been condemned, first, by the Goss-Shelby Commission in the Congress, and then the 9-11 Commission," he said.
Mr. Scheuer's two books, published under the pen name Anonymous, were sharp critiques of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts and were perceived in some quarters as CIA-sanctioned criticism of President Bush. They were cleared by agency authorities before publication, and Mr. Scheuer had extraordinary latitude to give media interviews without prior permission.
But Mr. Scheuer says that not long before resigning, he found his free access to the media cut off after he successfully dispelled the impression his books were anti-Bush.
"As long as the book was being misinterpreted as an attack on the president, I was allowed free access to the media. But I worked very hard in interviews to turn that around, to try to explain what the book was about. And, for whatever reason, once I was successful on that issue and the book was being reviewed and talked about in the proper interpretation, or at least the interpretation that I intended, they pulled the rug out," said Mr. Scheuer.
In an message to CIA employees cited in the Washington Post, Director Goss said the agency should brace for more changes ahead.