Top CIA official to quit sooner over Goss dispute

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A senior official in the CIA’s espionage branch will leave earlier than announced because of a dispute with CIA Director Porter J. Goss on reforms within the agency’s spying branch, Bush administration officials said yesterday.

Robert Richer, the associate deputy director of operations, the No. 2 official in the CIA’s clandestine service, had planned to retire from the agency effective November, according to a recent announcement to agency employees by Mr. Goss.

However, Mr. Richer now will enter the agency’s retirement transition program within two weeks, said officials, who declined to be named.

A CIA spokesman refused to comment.

Mr. Richer told associates earlier this week that he decided to enter the transition program earlier because of concerns about the CIA leadership.

He has said that he disagreed with and did not have confidence in Mr. Goss and his key aides.

The move speeds up the end of Mr. Richer’s involvement with CIA operations matters.

His scheduled departure highlights an ongoing and largely secret political struggle inside the CIA over efforts by Mr. Goss to reform the agency in the aftermath of intelligence failures related to September 11 and Iraq’s weapons programs.

A senior intelligence official said Mr. Richer was forced out because of “insubordination.”

A second official said the departure was due to a personality clash between Mr. Richer and Mr. Goss related to reforms at the Directorate of Operations. Both officials declined to elaborate.

Some leaders within the directorate have been opposing efforts by Mr. Goss to improve CIA spying. One issue in the recent past was a dispute over the selection of station chiefs, which mainly is done by the deputy director of operations, as the chief of the agency clandestine service is known.

The espionage branch was considered the elite element of the agency and is made up of about 7,000 case officers trained for spying overseas. Almost all other CIA employees are involved in analysis or technical work.

Mr. Goss and four close aides have been working behind the scenes to try to improve the agency’s spying operations and have encountered resistance from officials who oppose some of the changes.

In particular, Mr. Goss is pressing hard for agency spies to do better in Iraq.

“The biggest problem for CIA can be summed up in two words: No spies,” said one official.

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