Sunday, May 07, 2006

Why was Porter Goss fired? (GOP meltdown continues?)

Porter Goss, who was appointed CIA Director in September 2004 to replace George Tenet, abruptly "resigned" on Friday, May 5. Almost all serious observers had agreed for some time that Goss's tenure at the CIA was a disaster, but this hardly seems enough to explain why the Bush administration decided to fire him. So far, a combination of flagrant incompetence and blind partisan zeal has generally been a sure-fire guarantee of job security in this administration (with the exception of the unfortunate Michael Brown of FEMA--but Goss hasn't yet managed to lose a major American city). So Goss's removal seemed mysterious.

It now appears that Goss's departure may have to do with his possible involvement in an expanding Congressional corruption scandal featuring bribery, prostitutes, and multiple criminal indictments. At least, this has been suggested by articles in publications ranging from the Daily News to the (highly pro-administration) Wall Street Journal. Goss may not have been engaged in illegal activity himself, though he was closely linked to people who probably were--but so far, the details are mostly just speculation. The administration wanted to get him out of the spotlight before the scandal engulfed him and embarrassed them. If so, this could be one more sign of an impending Republican meltdown.

Here are some highlights from the WSJ article ("CIA Director Goss Abruptly Quits" - 5/6/06)
Neither Mr. Goss, 67 years old, nor President Bush, who accepted the resignation during a brief White House announcement Friday, gave any reason for the surprise exit. (Read the full text of their statements.) But it comes after the once highflying agency has been eclipsed in the post-9/11 shake-up of the intelligence community and the creation of a White House-based National Intelligence directorate under John Negroponte that had sapped power from the Central Intelligence Agency chief. More recently, the agency has been rocked by a controversy over intelligence leaks.

The agency also has been drawn into a federal investigation of bribery that has sent former Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham to prison. Just this past week, the CIA confirmed that its third-ranking official, a hand-picked appointee of Mr. Goss, had attended poker games at a hospitality suite set up by a defense contractor implicated in the bribing of former Rep. Cunningham. Friday, people with knowledge of the continuing Cunningham inquiry said the CIA official, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, is under federal criminal investigation in connection with awarding agency contracts. [....]

When Mr. Goss took over the CIA in September 2004, officials said they hoped he would bring rigor to an agency that had suffered tremendous morale problems in the wake of intelligence failures before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the run-up to the Iraq war. But instead, problems at the agency seemed to multiply, as insiders criticized the rigid management style of the former CIA agent and Florida Republican congressman. Mr. Goss was thought to have hastened the brain drain at the agency by reassigning much of its upper echelon when taking over, installing a new crop of managers. [....]

Mr. Goss's resignation also comes amid the controversy regarding the man he appointed to the CIA's third-highest post, Mr. Foggo. Mr. Foggo is under federal criminal investigation relating to the awarding of CIA contracts, people with knowledge of the inquiry said Friday.

When Mr. Goss became CIA head in 2004, Mr. Foggo was his surprise choice for executive director. Although Mr. Foggo had been with the CIA for more than 25 years, he had mainly been assigned to middle-management logistical and administrative jobs, and had never held any senior headquarters position.

Mr. Foggo has been a close friend since junior high school with Poway, Calif., defense contractor Brent R. Wilkes. The criminal investigation centers on whether Mr. Foggo used his postings at the CIA to improperly steer contracts to Mr. Wilkes's companies.

Mr. Wilkes earlier this year was implicated in the charges filed against Mr. Cunningham, as an unindicted co-conspirator who allegedly had paid about $630,000 in bribes to Mr. Cunningham for help in obtaining federal contracts.

No charges have been filed against Mr. Wilkes, although federal prosecutors in San Diego are working to build a case against him, as well as Mr. Foggo, people with knowledge of the investigation said.

The FBI and federal prosecutors also are investigating evidence that Mr. Wilkes had given gifts to Mr. Foggo and paid for various services for him while Mr. Foggo was in a position to help him gain particular CIA contracts.

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said Mr. Foggo "denies any improper gifts from Brent Wilkes."

Mr. Gimigliano also said agency officials aren't aware of any subpoenas being issued to the agency in connection with the criminal investigation, and he said that he isn't aware that any such investigation is under way.
The Daily News version of the story is a bit more lively and scandal-mongering. I've reproduced it below. (Also see here.) Stay tuned....

--Jeff Weintraub

New York Daily News
May 6, 2006

CIA boss Goss is cooked
BY Richard Sisk and James Gordon Meek
Saturday, May 6th, 2006

WASHINGTON - CIA Director Porter Goss abruptly resigned yesterday amid allegations that he and a top aide may have attended Watergate poker parties where bribes and prostitutes were provided to a corrupt congressman.

Kyle (Dusty) Foggo, the No. 3 official at the CIA, could soon be indicted in a widening FBI investigation of the parties thrown by defense contractor Brent Wilkes, named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the bribery conviction of former Rep. Randall (Duke) Cunningham, law enforcement sources said.

A CIA spokeswoman said Foggo went to the lavish weekly hospitality-suite parties at the Watergate and Westin Grand hotels but "just for poker."

Intelligence and law enforcement sources said solid evidence had yet to emerge that Goss also went to the parties, but Goss and Foggo share a fondness for poker and expensive cigars, and the FBI investigation was continuing.

Larry Johnson, a former CIA operative and a Bush administration critic, said Goss "had a relationship with Dusty and with Brent Wilkes that's now coming under greater scrutiny."

Johnson vouched for the integrity of Foggo and Goss but said, "Dusty was a big poker player, and it's my understanding that Porter Goss was also there [at Wilkes' parties] for poker. It's going to be guilt by association."

"It's all about the Duke Cunningham scandal," a senior law enforcement official told the Daily News in reference to Goss' resignation. Duke, a California Republican, was sentenced to more than eight years in prison after pleading guilty in November to taking $2.4 million in homes, yachts and other bribes in exchange for steering government contracts.

Goss' inability to handle the allegations swirling around Foggo prompted John Negroponte, the director of National Intelligence, who oversees all of the nation's spy agencies, to press for the CIA chief's ouster, the senior official said. The official said Goss is not an FBI target but "there is an impending indictment" of Foggo for steering defense contracts to his poker buddies.

One subject of the FBI investigation is a $3 million CIA contract that went to Wilkes to supply bottled water and other goods to CIA operatives in Iraq and Afghanistan, sources said.

In a hastily arranged Oval Office announcement that stunned official Washington, neither President Bush nor Goss offered a substantive reason for why the head of the spy agency was leaving after only a year on the job.

"He has led ably" in an era of CIA transition, Bush said with Goss seated at his side. "He has a five-year plan to increase the analysts and operatives."

Goss said the trust Bush placed in him "is something I could never have imagined." "I believe the agency is on a very even keel, sailing well," he said.

The official Bush administration spin that emerged later was that Goss lost out in a turf battle with Negroponte, but Goss' tenure was marked by the resignations of several veteran operatives who viewed him as an amateur out of his depth.

White House officials said Bush would announce early next week his choice to succeed Goss. Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, Negroponte's top deputy, heads the list of potential replacements, with White House counterterror chief Fran Townsend also on the short list.

Negroponte "apparently had no confidence" in Goss, and Bush's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board was also "very alarmed by problems at the CIA," said a congressional source involved in oversight of U.S. spy agencies.

"Supposedly the [Cunningham] scandal was the last straw," the source said. "This administration may be on the verge of a major scandal."

Problems at spy agency

Here are some other scandals in the CIA's recent history:

  • A human-rights furor erupted in 2005 with revelations that the CIA had set up secret prisons in Eastern European countries to interrogate terror suspects.

  • CIA Director George Tenet took blame for the since-debunked claim in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq had purchased enriched uranium from Africa — a major part of his case for why the U.S. should go to war. Heavily criticized over questionable intelligence on the Iraq war and terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Tenet resigned in 2004.

  • Former CIA Director John Deutch's security clearance was suspended in 1999 because he improperly kept classified material on a home computer vulnerable to Internet hackers.

  • A State Department official revealed in 1994 that the CIA covered up what it knew about the role of a Guatemalan colonel, a paid informer, in the slaying of rebel leader Efrain Bamaca, who was married to an American citizen.

  • CIA agent Aldrich Ames spied for the KGB for nine years, until his arrest in 1994, giving the Soviets the names of every undercover agent the CIA had in Moscow, leading to the deaths of at least nine agents.

  • The agency was implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal, the Reagan-era scheme to secretly fund Nicaraguan rebels by illegally selling arms to Tehran.