The CIA underwent several changes at the close of 2004, and the resignations of a number of high-ranking CIA officers in November, as well as the content of a memo by new CIA Director Porter Goss to agency employees, appear to confirm a claim by Newsday that the White House was planning a purge at the agency, targeting critics of the Iraq war.

The purge began with the resignations of clandestine service chief Stephen Kappes and his deputy, Michael Sulick, followed by Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin.  CIA staffers are reportedly bracing themselves for more resignations, disturbed by the high-handed behavior of Goss and his entourage.  Newsday’s source, identified as “a former senior CIA official who maintains close ties to both the agency and the White House,” claimed that the purge would be a direct response by the Bush administration to perceived disloyalty: “Goss was given instructions . . . to get rid of those . . . [CIA] leakers and liberal Democrats.”

Goss, a Bush loyalist who headed a congressional intelligence-oversight committee and replaced George Tenet as CIA director, has been a fierce critic of the agency.  Two other events appear to support the Newsday report: the resignation of Michael Scheuer, a 22-year agency veteran who once headed the task force assigned to track Osama bin Laden and the author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror; and the content of a Goss memo to agency employees.

Scheuer’s book, published anonymously, was vetted for classified information before publication and contains a common argument: that, under both the Clinton and the Bush administrations (which undermines the White House’s claims of partisanship by agency critics), senior officials (Scheuer did not spare the agency itself) undermined attempts to capture or kill Bin Laden; and that the war in Iraq is a diversion from the anti-Bin Laden effort—in fact, it is a gift to Bin Laden, boosting his image across the Islamic world as well as terrorist organizations’ recruiting efforts.  Scheuer apparently resigned under pressure: Though he had been careful to report media contacts according to CIA ground rules, CNN reported that he had been threatened with “disciplinary action” by the new agency regime.  One agency official subsequently said that “the word is out: The place is under lockdown.”

A Goss memo to agency employees seemed to make clear the aim of the lockdown: “We support the administration and its policies in our work,” Goss wrote.  “[W]e do not identify with, support, or champion opposition to the administration or its policies.”  Though the memo stated that intelligence officers should “let the facts” speak to policymakers, it seems clear that Goss intended to chill dissent.

And dissent there had been.  The Bush administration attempted to pressure CIA analysts to produce evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and of connections between Iraq and the Al Qaeda network.  When nothing concrete materialized, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his neoconservative allies set up the Office of Special Plans (OSP), a Pentagon office connected to a similar Israeli intelligence operation.  (Both Rumsfeld deputy Douglas Feith and neoconservative hawk Richard Perle once served as advisors to Israeli Likud Party leaders.)  The OSP became the pro-war clique’s chief weapon in the intelligence battle, giving information of questionable reliability to the hawks, who, in turn, used that information to pressure CIA analysts.

The White House-CIA clash reached its climax in the flap over administration claims that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium in Nigeria.  The dubious claim, based partly on forged documents, contradicted the findings of a CIA-sponsored mission to Nigeria by retired diplomat Joseph Wilson.  When news of the Wilson mission became public, White House officials leaked to columnist Robert Novak the information that Valerie Plame, Wilson’s wife, was a CIA operative.  Her outing ended her career as a covert CIA operative and was arguably a federal offense, prompting a grand-jury investigation.  Meanwhile, Rep. Porter Goss tried to downplay the Plame investigation, dismissing charges of a deliberate leak as an act of political retaliation against the CIA.  Why wasn’t Goss, a former CIA case officer, outraged at the exposure of an undercover agent?  Hadn’t the Bush administration complained about leaks, denouncing them as political sabotage?  Subsequent reporting on the investigation seemed to indicate that the President knew of the plan to leak Plame’s CIA affiliation and that his chief political advisor, Karl Rove, approved the leak.

What is most disturbing about the CIA “purge” affair is how it fits into the pattern of the Bush administration’s (and its supporters’) behavior, a pattern that sees dissent as disloyalty.  Iraq-war hardliners, such as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), have defended Goss and attempted to blame the CIA for faulty pre-war intelligence (since no WMD’s were found in Iraq and no credible connections between Iraq and Bin Laden have surfaced).  McCain claimed that the CIA is “in some ways a rouge agency” that did not provide the President with “the necessary information” to “conduct the war on terror,” while Graham stated that the CIA had “failed this country,” an exact reversal of what appears to have happened.  Who is “failing the country” by cooking intelligence to justify a war on dubious grounds?  What office was, in fact, a “rogue agency” operating outside normal channels?  Why have patriotic whistle-blowers such as Michael Scheuer been pushed out of the CIA, while neoconservative Likudniks remain in place?  (Note that Scheuer pointed to unquestioning U.S. support of Israel as one of the main answers to the “Why do they hate us?” question.)  And what did the President know, and when did he know it, regarding the Plame leak?