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Porter Goss ends his stormy tenure as CIA director

The former congressman from Florida steps aside after less than two years. The president praises his honor and integrity.

Published May 6, 2006

WASHINGTON - Porter Goss, one-time mayor of Sanibel Island and longtime political force in Congress, ended a brief but tumultuous reign as CIA director Friday when he abruptly resigned after less than two years on the job.

With Goss at his side at the White House, President Bush said he had accepted his resignation. He praised him as a man of honor and integrity.

Bush, who has reshuffled his staff in recent weeks to combat plummeting poll numbers, characterized Goss' tenure at the CIA as "one of transition."

"He's led ably," the president said.

When it was his time to talk, Goss thanked Bush for the assignment.

"I honestly believe that we have improved dramatically your goals for our nation's intelligence capabilities, which are, in fact, the things that I think are keeping us very safe."

Goss said he thought "the agency is on a very even keel, sailing well."

Neither Bush nor Goss offered a reason for his departure.

Critics say Goss got off on the wrong foot when he took the job in September 2004 and brought in congressional aides as managers. They said the move politicized the agency.

"They came in and they started breaking the china," said James Bamford, author of Body of Secrets, Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency. He said many veteran employees never warmed up to the new staff.

Rep. Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said employees with 300 years' worth of experience had left since Goss took the job.

Loch Johnson, professor of political science at the University of Georgia and author of America's Secret Power: The CIA in a Democratic Society, said Goss was no George Tenet, his predecessor.

While Tenet raised morale at CIA headquarters by walking the hallways and slapping people on the back, Goss stayed in his office and delegated.

Johnson also noted that Goss lost power when Bush appointed John Negroponte as national intelligence director.

Johnson said Goss had been angling for the newly created position. When he was passed over, the CIA became just another member of the nation's vast spy network, Johnson said.

Goss also had some public missteps. In March 2005, he talked of being overwhelmed by the job.

"The jobs I'm being asked to do, the five hats that I wear, are too much for this mortal," Goss said. "I'm a little amazed at the workload."

Goss has pressed for aggressive inquiries about leaked information.

"The damage has been very severe to our capabilities to carry out our mission," he told Congress in February, adding that a federal grand jury should be empaneled to determine "who is leaking this information."

Two weeks ago, Goss announced the firing of a top intelligence analyst in connection with a Pulitzer Prize-winning story about a network of CIA prisons in Eastern Europe. Such dismissals are highly unusual.

Observers of the agency credit Goss, a former CIA officer, with adding to the agency's spy ranks, especially in the Arab world and Asia.

In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, Goss - then-chairman of the House Intelligence Committee - complained about the lack of spies in places such as Afghanistan. He said it was difficult to crack because terrorist cells in that part of the world can be as small as a couple of people.

Johnson, the political professor, was asked to grade Goss' performance.

"I'm afraid he'd have to get a C at best," he said. "I hate to say that, because I like Porter."

Not all of it was Goss' doing.

When he took the job, the agency was reeling from two of the nation's most notable intelligence failures: the inability to foil the 9/11 plot and wrong information on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Former Sen. Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee during 9/11, is a longtime friend of Goss.

In an interview, Graham said that Goss took over when the CIA was in "serious trouble," and that he tried to understand it and clean it up.

"I think he did a very good job and deserves commendation," Graham said.

Graham said he knew the people Goss brought to the agency and found them to be professional, smart, tenacious, and not arrogant.

He said he spoke with Goss regularly. From their conversations, Graham said he walked away thinking "he worked hard, loved the job, had thrown himself completely in a very difficult task."

Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, said he and Goss had worked closely, as colleagues in Congress and after Goss was named CIA director. The two usually met weekly, behind closed doors, sometimes with staff, sometimes alone.

"Frankly I'm not surprised he chose to leave," said Young, chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. "He had one of the most difficult jobs in the world. He got his arms around it - and it took him some time."

Young said Goss was criticized by those who criticize everything.

Sen. Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat who serves on the Armed Services Committee, said: "He's a friend of mine and I'm surprised by his departure.

"If this is an indication of more turmoil within the intelligence community, then it is a real disappointment, especially considering the intelligence failures we experienced leading up to 9/11 and the Iraq war."

A successor to Goss could come as early as Monday.

Among possible candidates are Bush's homeland security adviser, Frances Fragos Townsend; David Shedd, chief of staff to Negroponte; and Mary Margaret Graham, Negroponte's deputy for intelligence collection.

Goss grew up in a world of privilege in Connecticut, attending the best schools and vacationing on Sanibel Island in southwest Florida. He studied classical languages at Yale and graduated with honors in 1960.

Goss worked the clandestine side of the agency in the 1960s and spent time in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

A multimillionaire, Goss got into local politics and served as Sanibel Island's mayor and as a City Council member. During the 1970s, he developed a statewide reputation as an environmentalist, catching the eye of then-Gov. Graham.

In 1982, three of five Lee County commissioners were indicted in an airport scandal. Graham tapped Goss to fill one of the posts. Six years later, when Connie Mack ran for the U.S. Senate, Goss was elected to his House seat.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

[Last modified May 6, 2006, 06:54:29]

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