The two most senior managers of the CIA’s clandestine service resigned yesterday after clashing with staff brought in by Director Porter J. Goss, robbing the nation’s spies of a leadership team that one agency veteran said was its best in years.
The resignations of Stephen Kappes, deputy director for operations, and Michael Sulick, the associate deputy director, were announced yesterday evening by Mr. Goss after several days of rumors and speculation.
“I thank Steve and Mike for their meaningful contributions that range from the Cold War to the terrorist threats of today,” Mr. Goss said, adding that the men will retire from federal service.
The new CIA director said he had “already begun the process to name a new deputy director for operations.”
“I have asked a senior covert officer in the DO’s clandestine service to serve in that position,” he said, though he did not name the person.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, played down the significance of the move, saying, “People leaving during a transition is not unexpected.
“When you get a change of leadership, a new direction, there will always be people who choose to leave rather than be part of that,” he said.
Others were not so sanguine.
The senior Democrat on the intelligence committee, Rep. Jane Harman of California, told CNN that the agency’s clandestine service was “imploding,” and she blamed a cadre of officials imported by Mr. Goss from the intelligence committee, which he chaired until his nomination this summer to head the CIA.
Mrs. Harman called the new team, led by CIA Chief of Staff Patrick Murray, the committee’s former staff director, “highly partisan [and] quite inexperienced.”
The clandestine service — which recruits and operates agents — is the most secret part of the CIA, and is in the vanguard of efforts to strengthen U.S. counterterrorism by improving intelligence about terror groups.
The two men were “the strongest leadership the DO has had in many, many years,” said John Macgaffin, a CIA veteran who held Mr. Sulick’s post in the early 1990s.
Mrs. Harman appeared to concur. “They were viewed as very capable people,” she said.
Mr. Macgaffin said Mr. Kappes, for example, was the agency’s point man in the negotiations with Libyan intelligence chief Musa el-Kusa, which resulted in Libya’s acknowledgment and abandonment of efforts to develop chemical and biological weapons.
On Friday, CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin announced his decision to retire, which he called “purely personal.”
Two former senior agency officials who maintain close contacts at CIA headquarters in Langley, and who were interviewed independently, said the resignations look like the first of several.
One accused Mr. Goss of reneging on promises he had made not to politicize the agency. “He’s bringing in partisan people and giving them hire-and-fire power.”
Mike Scheuer, one of the agency’s top terror-hunters, who resigned last week so he could speak freely in the debate over intelligence reform, said CIA staff are feeling “a lot of anxiety about the way [Mr. Murray and his team] are behaving.”
“It looks to many like they’re trying to reform us with a meat cleaver,” he said.