Covert operations rarely come off exactly as planned. But last week's coup at the CIA, orchestrated by White House officials and Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, went only slightly awry--and only at the last moment. Bush officials had hoped to take the weekend to quietly prepare for the surprise announcement that Air Force General Michael Hayden would replace embattled CIA Director Porter Goss, with the two appearing together at the White House early this week. But Goss, a former spook who used to run covert operations in Latin America, wanted to control the choreography. "If we're gonna do this," Goss said, "let's go ahead and do it."
So a few hours after tendering his resignation to White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten Friday morning, Goss and George W. Bush conducted an unusual Oval Office fare-thee-well for reporters, a show of calm that was designed to convey continuity at an agency that has known nothing but turbulence for the past five years.
Because it had been rumored about for months, Goss's departure was one of those Washington episodes that are more sudden than surprising. Goss was alarmed to discover, within a few months after taking over, how hard the job was. He lost some fights with rival intelligence agencies, particularly at Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon. He wasn't a very good manager, and while he had been put in the job to assert control over CIA careerists, the flow of experienced hands opting for the exit on his watch was steady and worrisome.
But most of all, he had been hired as CIA chief at the very moment the job began to lose its clout. Less than a year after Goss stepped into the Langley, Va., post, Bush named Negroponte director of national intelligence (DNI) and gave him the authority to oversee and direct 16 intelligence shops--among them the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the FBI. Armed with new powers created by Congress, Negroponte was supposed to make the hidebound agencies work together and share information, something they had largely failed to do before 9/11. Goss's departure was, above all, a signal that Negroponte was finally exercising his powers and trying to slip the stray agencies into harness.
The move was overdue. Negroponte struggled in his first year as spy czar as many of the well-entrenched agencies refused to bend to his will. The DNI's office felt the CIA was slow to lend a hand when the DNI was setting up his office. The FBI complained, as it often does, about being underbudgeted. And Negroponte had yet to prove to skeptics in Congress that he could wrest control of the Pentagon's massive intelligence assets from Rumsfeld and put them in service not just for military commanders but also for the entire intelligence community.