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Deck Chairs on the Titantic By: Kenneth R. Timmerman
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, May 11, 2006

The White House is trying its best to put a happy face on the abrupt firing of CIA Director Porter Goss. Announced on a Friday afternoon – the classic timing for doomsday announcements – the news came as a surprise to many intelligence professionals, including, I am told, Goss himself.

Formerly mainstream media outlets including the Washington Post and the New York Times have made much of the alleged involvement of Goss’s chief of staff, Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, in a corruption scheme involving convicted former Congressman Randy (Duke) Cunningham.

According to these breathless accounts, Foggo attended poker games – imagine! – with a friend at the Watergate (yes, that Watergate) hotel. No one is yet saying what stakes they wagered, nor the type of female companions Foggo’s friends may or may not have provided. Nor has anyone alleged – so far! - that Mr. Goss attended these gatherings. Wink wink, nod nod,

Washington, DC is a Byzantine place, but no part of our nation’s power structure is more Byzantine than the intelligence establishment. Planted stories such as the ones now circulating about Porter Goss are a form of payback, aimed squarely at tarnishing the former CIA chief’s reputation and enhancing the status of his enemies.

Among those enemies are a coterie of current and former CIA officers who have backed Mary McCarthy, the CIA deputy inspector general and Democratic-party contributor who was fired by Goss after she failed a polygraph.
She has been accused of leaking classified intelligence about secret CIA prisons to the media, which she has denied through her lawyer.

The White House has encouraged the worst of the mud-slingers by calling back from retirement a former Director of Operations, Stephen Kappas, who quit in open rebellion against Mr. Goss in 2004.

The official explanation for bringing Kappas out of retirement is that the White House wanted to “balance” the general’s uniform with a known and trusted intelligence civilian. After all, they reasoned, Kappas was a former Director of Operations who won high praise from his subordinates. Kappas will be nominated to become deputy director.

But Kappas is a former Marine. And while that service is to his credit, it makes mincemeat of the official argument about “balance” from a civilian.

Also making mincemeat of that argument was none other than Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, widely seen by the media (with some egging on from the White House) as one of the targets of this latest rearrangement of the deck chairs on our nation’s ailing ship of spies.

Asked on Tuesday to refute the argument that Hayden would be beholden to the Pentagon because he still wore his general’s uniform, Rumsfeld suggested that reporters examine Hayden’s career. If they did so, he said, they would notice that Hayden had never held an operational command, but was an “intelligence professional” whose entire career had been spent driving computers, satellites, and whole brigades of desks.

With Gen. Hayden in charge at the CIA, the agency comes fully under the control of DNI John Negroponte. White House officials have indicated clearly that this was the goal behind Hayden’s appointment.

But it’s the Kappas appointment that is far more troubling to intelligence insiders, because it sends a clear message that the Bush administration has abandoned its efforts to weed out incompetents and fierce political partisans from the Agency.

“The CIA has been at war with the Bush administration since the beginning,” says Richard Perle, the former chair of the Defense Policy board. “What is astounding is the CIA campaign to discredit this administration.”

Perle cites numerous examples where the CIA has  dropped the ball - failing to warn about the threats from Islamic fundamentalism, missing Iran’s nuclear weapons program, reinterpreting intelligence on Saddam’s weapons programs after the 2003 war. “The CIA had a lot of explaining to do” for its past failures, he argued. “It was easier to attack the president than own up to their own deficiencies.”

Just two months after Goss took over in 2004, he ordered Kappas to fire his deputy, Michael Sulick, for gross insubordination.

Sulick and others referred to Goss’s aides dismissively as “the Goslings” and refused to take orders from them, claiming they were “political hacks” because they had worked for Goss in Congress. Taking their side in this partisan battle, the Washington Post accused Goss and his staff of conducting a “witch hunt” for firing Sulick.

But every Director of Central Intelligence has brought his closest aides with him from earlier jobs. This was true with Bill Casey in the 1980s, and with George Tenet in the 1990s. And it will undoubtedly be true of General Hayden as well.

During his brief tenure in 1995-1996, John Deutsch brought on board Nora Slatkin as CIA Executive Director. She infamously required CIA officers to contribute to a gigantic “diversity quilt” on display at the headquarters building, if they wanted to keep their jobs.

What Sulick and the partisan burrowers within the CIA didn’t like about Porter Goss was his agenda. He had been appointed by the President – or so he thought – to “clean house” at the Agency, firing officers who were incompetent or so beholden to a partisan agenda that they could not loyally serve the president. To enforce those orders, Goss brought professional staff from the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee – people like Dusty Foggo – who knew the community inside and out, including where the bodies were buried.

Congressman Curt Weldon (R, Pa) also believes Kappas is a disaster, and called him “the ringleader of an internal CIA rebellion” against Porter Goss. “He was one of many in the CIA resistant to needed reforms.”

By announcing the Kappes appointment, the White House is sending a clear message that the time of reforming the CIA is over. And that is the most troubling part of this appointment.

The real challenge facing the CIA today is how to reconstitute its shattered human intelligence capabilities.

In his book Countdown to Terror, Rep. Weldon says Kappes point-blank refused repeated pleas - backed by then CIA Director George Tenet -  to travel to Paris to meet with a potential Iranian source who claimed to have intelligence on Iran’s nuclear programs and on Iran’s ties to Osama Bin Laden.

Weldon encouraged Kappes to investigate the credentials of his source, but got nowhere. “Finally, Kappes threatened me too. He warned me to stop working with [the source]… Fortunately, Kappes has now resigned from the CIA.”

Those are chilling words, especially given efforts by John Negroponte to assert central control over all human intelligence operations.

If you thought the CIA was missing it before, just wait for the failures charging at us down the pike.

Congress should oppose the appointment of Steve Kappes as deputy director of CIA, and insist that the Defense Department be encouraged to develop its own human intelligence capabilities independent of CIA control. If ever we were in need of a “second opinion” in matters of national intelligence, now is the time.

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Kenneth R. Timmerman was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize along with John Bolton for his work on Iran. He is Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, and author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum: 2005).

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