Porter Goss wasn’t in a mood to discuss his May 5 departure from his post as CIA director after only two years on the job. Following the announcement of his resignation, Goss cryptically told reporters that his leaving was “just one of those mysteries.” Indeed, it was—neither Goss nor President Bush was in a hurry to explain the change. (The President nominated Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden as Goss’s replacement; Hayden was confirmed by the Senate in late May.) President Bush stated simply that the former congressman and intelligence officer had offered his resignation and the White House had accepted it. The President praised Goss, opining that “Porter’s tenure at the CIA was one of transition, where he’s helped his agency become integrated into the intelligence community . . . that was a tough job, and he’s led ably.”
Indeed, Goss seems to have been dispatched to the CIA to “integrate” the agency into a system that would crank out “intelligence” custom fit to the White House’s policy choices. During his time at the CIA, Goss conducted a purge of personnel the White House saw as disloyal—especially critics of the Iraq war. The purge was simultaneously blended into the White House spin machine’s CIA “intelligence failure” myth, with Goss portrayed as the hero dispatched to cleanse the Augean stables at the agency’s McLean, Virginia, headquarters.
Early on in Goss’s tenure, he made his intentions plain in a memo to agency employees: “We support the administration and its policies in our work,” Goss wrote, and “we 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. One agency official said at the time that “the word is out: The place is under lockdown.”
As Chronicles readers are aware, the Bush administration attempted to pressure CIA analysts to produce evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, as well as of connections between Iraq and the Al Qaeda terrorist network. When nothing convincing materialized, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his neoconservative allies set up the Office of Special Plans (OSP), a Pentagon office connected to a similar operation in Israeli intelligence. The OSP became the War Party’s chief weapon in the intelligence battle, giving information of questionable reliability to the hawks. The hawks then used that information to pressure CIA analysts who had remained skeptical of the Pentagon’s claims about Iraqi WMDs and alleged connections to Al Qaeda. The White House, admittedly with the help of certain compliant CIA officials—especially former CIA Director George Tenet—was then able to get the results it wanted. Later, the CIA was set up to take the fall for its alleged “intelligence failure” as it became apparent that Iraq had no WMDs and had not taken part in any Al Qaeda plotting.
So why did Goss, who had done such yeoman service in promoting the administration’s Iraq war, resign? White House spin doctors attempted to portray the firing as evidence of friction between Goss and “intelligence czar” John Negroponte, whose office had taken over some of the CIA’s functions—a plausible explanation, and probably partly true. Another story had Goss’s departure as part of a general administration shake-up that started with the resignation of Andrew Card as White House chief of staff and his replacement by Joshua Bolten. Other changes included Scott McClellan being replaced by commentator Tony Snow as White House press secretary, and Karl Rove (who has kept his deputy chief of staff job) losing his policy-coordination job to Joel Kaplan. Again, the story was plausible and probably contained a grain of truth.
But a scandal over the awarding of government contracts may be at the center of the Goss resignation story. As Goss departed the CIA, media sources reported that his deputy, Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, was leaving as well. Foggo, it turns out, was the subject of an FBI investigation involving an associate of former U.S. Rep. Randall “Duke” Cunningham. Cunningham, a Republican from California, was sentenced to over eight years in prison for taking $2.4 million worth of bribes (including homes and yachts) for ensuring that certain parties were awarded government contracts.
The story behind the Goss resignation began to trickle out. Foggo was a friend of one Brent Wilkes, a defense contractor (and later, an unindicted Cunningham coconspirator) who threw lavish poker parties—some of them at Washington’s landmark Watergate hotel—for his friends, including Foggo and, perhaps, Goss. Apart from a poker game, Wilkes may have provided his buddies with prostitutes. Like Foggo, Goss is known to have a taste for pricey cigars and poker. One former CIA official told journalists that Goss “had a relationship with Dusty and with Brent Wilkes” and that Goss attended Foggo’s parties. According to subsequent media accounts, Foggo may soon be indicted for steering government contracts to his poker pals. The New York Daily News, for instance, reported that the FBI was investigating the awarding of a CIA contract worth three million dollars to Wilkes. (The contract was for supplying bottled water, among other things, to CIA personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq.)
So far, no evidence implicating Goss in anything illegal has emerged—and it could be that his bureaucratic rival Negroponte used the poker party/Foggo story to force Goss out of the CIA. Or perhaps the Bush administration, already reeling as the President’s poll numbers were plummeting, simply engaged in the time-honored Washington game of CYA, pushing Goss out, evidence or no. One congressional source (cited in the New York Daily News item) claimed that “the administration may be on the verge of a major scandal.” But after the stories of the mythical Saddam connection to September 11, the invisible Iraqi WMDs, and the politically motivated “purge” at the CIA, what could possibly shock us about this shameless administration?
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