Why the CIA is having such a hard time keeping its best
Why the mass exodus? A veteran official cites two reasons: morale and money. The most senior operatives, this man says, are leaving because they are unhappy with the leadership of the agency. "Goss," this man says dismissively, "is not seen as serious by the careerists." While Goss may say the right things, some agency veterans say, he is not actively managing the agency. Goss has told officials he "doesn't do personnel," leaving such issues to the clutch of aides he brought from Capitol Hill, most of whom had only short tours at the CIA years before. These aides, known to insiders as "Gosslings," are seen by many as arrogant and unapproachable.
Goss supporters dispute such assertions. The new director, they say, came in with an agenda of change, which many veterans resisted. The bad blood began when some leaked to the press the shoplifting history of one of the "Gosslings." Both sides dug in their heels, and things soon went from bad to worse. One ambitious D.O. official began encouraging others to leave in protest, a senior official says--then stayed on and moved up the ladder.
"Barons." Others say that all the talk about departures misses the bigger picture. A senior intelligence official points out that 120,000 men and women applied to the agency last year and says that in November the largest class in the D.O.'s history graduated from training at "the farm," in rural Virginia. Disputing the magnitude of the exodus from the D.O., this official says: "The folks who have been here 15 to 25 years are a valuable asset," but he characterizes most of the departures as demographic in nature. "They've reached their time." Another senior intelligence official dismisses the critics in more strenuous terms. "With no disrespect to our Cold War barons, it is time for a new generation. We have a new innovative leadership team who are truly coming into their own. They are more in tune with today's threats. They know how to use the Internet; they don't dictate to secretaries."
Despite all the internal wrangling, the men and women of the D.O. clearly face serious challenges--and questions about whether their talents are being used to best advantage. In Iraq, case officers are being ordered to collect tactical military rather than strategic intelligence. Regulations from CIA headquarters require that they leave Baghdad's Green Zone and other secure compounds only in armored three-car convoys. Security concerns dictate such precautions, but they also severely limit case officers' ability to gather useful information and, basically, do their jobs. One intelligence source recounts how the Baghdad station chief went out one night more than a year ago to meet with an Iraqi informant, taking the required convoy. "The difficulties of having a clandestine meeting when you are accompanied by a three-car convoy should be obvious," says a retired intelligence official. A case officer told another former senior official that he regularly leaves the confines of Baghdad alone, in violation of the agency's regulations, packing a pistol and a shotgun; he is one of the few case officers there, he adds, who do so.