WASHINGTON -- R. James Woolsey vowed to "change the culture" of the Central Intelligence Agency. It now appears that the culture got to him first, officials say, and whoever takes on his unfinished job faces the enormous task of reshaping and renewing the CIA and the rest of the nation's intelligence agencies from the ground up.
A caretaker who will keep the nation's secret services out of the headlines is not enough, White House and congressional officials say. But few people possess the combination of brainpower, experience and intestinal fortitude to take on the task of director of central intelligence in a time of change. The job has overwhelmed more than a few of the 16 men who have held it.
The likely successor, officials say, appears to be Deputy Secretary of Defense John M. Deutch, who has the backing of the outgoing leaders of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sens. Dennis DeConcini of Arizona and John W. Warner of Virginia.
Several military men and intelligence bureaucrats with impressive resumes also are considered to be in the race, among them retired Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and one of the few top brass to support President Clinton in the 1992 campaign. He now is the U.S. ambassador in London.
Warren B. Rudman, a former Republican senator who served on the intelligence committee, has the strong support of the panel's incoming chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. If Mr. Woolsey sometimes acted too much like a corporate lawyer defending the CIA, as his critics in Congress said, Mr. Rudman would likely be different. He is a prosecutor by training and temperament.
"I'd like to see it go to somebody strong like Warren Rudman -- somebody not too anxious to take the job, who'd speak up in a forceful way, who'd get a commitment in advance from the president for access, who'd come in, size it up, listen, make recommendations and get things done, who'd make waves," said Mr. Specter, who believes that the CIA needs an overhaul.
Mr. Deutch and Mr. Woolsey conducted joint reviews on major intelligence issues this year, including studies of the expensive programs for photoreconnaissance and electronic eavesdropping.
Together, these two programs consume perhaps one-third of the nation's intelligence budget.
The United States spends $28 billion a year on intelligence -- billion-dollar spy satellites, old-fashioned cloak-and-dagger espionage missions and arcane analyses of everything from the North Korean military to the political economy of Suriname.
But there is a consensus in Congress, which provides those billions, that the money is ill-spent, that the missions are ill-focused and that the morale of the CIA is miserable.
The new director will be called on to articulate a vision of where the intelligence juggernaut is going, what it should look like and how its work can be done with less money and more clarity in the 21st century.
Mr. Deutch won favor with the Senate intelligence committee, and an apparent inside track to the director's seat, when the committee stumbled last summer across a four-building complex in the final stage of construction west of Washington.
Disguised as a corporate office, it was the new headquarters of the National Reconnaissance Office, the military intelligence agency that builds spy satellites and whose existence was a state secret until two years ago. The new headquarters had a $347 million budget that had been cleverly disguised as a highly secret program.
Mr. DeConcini and Mr. Warner announced that they had been duped. A hearing was scheduled. Placed in the difficult position of explaining in public how intelligence agencies perform in secret, Mr. Woolsey told the senators that they were being disingenuous. Mr. Deutch, by contrast, confessed error.
Officials say that Mr. Woolsey's confrontational approach won him little, while Mr. Deutch's penance won him credibility that would stand him in good stead as some in Congress call for revolutionary, not evolutionary, change in intelligence.