If George W. Bush were presiding over a normal administration, there would be nothing spooky about Porter Goss' abrupt resignation Friday afternoon. It would be painfully evident from Bush's forced rhetoric ("Porter's tenure at the CIA was one of transition") and Goss' comically overblown boasts ("The agency is on a very even keel, sailing well") that the CIA director was sacked for ineptitude.
As the normally mild-mannered Ivo Daalder, a former staff member at the National Security Council under Bill Clinton, put it, "Porter Goss was such an absolute disaster for the agency and our national security that his departure comes not a day too soon." Daalder, now at the Brookings Institution, castigated Goss for creating "a climate of fear and intimidation at the CIA that produced a reluctance to take risks, which is the last thing you want in an intelligence agency."
Normally under Bush, promoted-above-your-abilities incompetence is not a firing offense unless, of course, you drown an entire city. True, Josh Bolten, the new White House chief of staff, has been trying to put a few new faces on the flight deck of the "Mission Accomplished" administration. These transitions -- like the long goodbye for White House spokesman Scott McClellan -- have been carefully orchestrated rather than cobbled together like this one, without even the slightest hint of a successor for Goss.
"If you believe the White House explanation that this is all part of Josh Bolten's reorganization, then this was done in a surprising fashion," said Rand Beers, a terrorism expert who served in four administrations before resigning from the Bush White House in early 2003. "This makes me believe that it's the cover story."
For those practiced in connecting the dots, little artistic training is needed to speculatively link Goss' here's-your-hat-what's-your-hurry departure with the bribery scandal surrounding jailed former GOP Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham.
NBC News reported Thursday night that the CIA is investigating whether a top agency official, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, improperly steered a $2.4 million contract to his close college friend Brent Wilkes, a defense contractor implicated in the Cunningham case. Wilkes reportedly supplied prostitutes to Cunningham at poker parties that Foggo also attended, though the CIA official denies seeing the female entertainment.
There is no obvious connection between Goss and Cunningham, aside from their having served together in the House for 13 years. But the real mystery is how Foggo became the CIA's executive director, the official in charge of day-to-day operations at the entire agency: He was a midlevel field officer with a procurement background when Goss appointed him in 2004. A CIA spokeswoman, who did not want her name used, said Thursday that the two men met when Foggo testified before the House Intelligence Committee, which Goss chaired from 1997 until 2004, when Bush made him the CIA director. No date was provided for Foggo's testimony before Goss' committee.
Of course, the Foggo-Wilkes connection may have nothing to do with the sudden change in Goss' career arc. Daalder posed the speculative question, "Was there an intelligence blunder that we don't know about -- and that we may never know about?" Certainly, given the disarray at the CIA, it is plausible that the agency could have made a major misjudgment about, say, the Iranian or North Korean nuclear programs.
Despite his brief tenure at the CIA, Goss will always be known as the last spymaster to have held the fabled title "Director of Central Intelligence." The CIA chief's supremacy in hush-hush matters permanently ended with the creation in early 2005 of a new director of national intelligence (DNI), a post held by John Negroponte, the former ambassador to Iraq. With this new governmental layer, Goss went from a globe-girdling figure (presumably even with the power to plan coups) to just another Washington bureaucrat with a boss standing between him and the president.
This still ill-defined relationship between the CIA and Negroponte's office is likely to further complicate the search for Goss' successor. As Richard Clarke, the White House counterterrorism chief under Clinton and during the early months of the Bush administration, said shrewdly, "Good luck trying to get someone to fill that job."
Goss' final accomplishment as CIA director -- such as it was -- was forcing out of her job a highly respected veteran intelligence officer, Mary McCarthy, for the purported leaking of classified information about secret CIA prisons abroad. McCarthy has denied being the leaker -- and her more obvious offenses were serving in the Clinton administration and donating $2,000 to John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign. "Goss and company were just looking for someone to fire to prove that they were serious about leak investigation," Beers said. "And they could portray her as political."
As for Goss himself, it is somehow fitting that he leaves office shrouded in cloak-and-dagger mystery. Did the CIA director jump, or was he pushed by a president so complacent in the face of failure that he even keeps Don Rumsfeld around? It may take a deep-cover agent to unravel the gossamer plot lines that produced Goss' goodbye.
With additional reporting by Mark Benjamin.