WASHINGTON - The White House has ordered the new CIA director, Porter J. Goss, to purge the agency of officers believed to have been disloyal to President Bush or of leaking damaging information to the media about the conduct of the Iraq war and the hunt for Osama bin Laden, according to knowledgeable sources.
"The agency is being purged on instructions from the White House," said a former senior CIA official who maintains close ties to both the agency and to the White House. "Goss was given instructions ... to get rid of those soft leakers and liberal Democrats. The CIA is looked on by the White House as a hotbed of liberals and people who have been obstructing the president's agenda."
One of the first casualties appears to be Stephen R. Kappes, deputy director of clandestine services, the CIA's most powerful division. The Washington Post reported yesterday that Kappes had tendered his resignation after a confrontation with Goss' chief of staff, Patrick Murray, but at the behest of the White House had agreed to delay his decision until tomorrow.
But the former senior CIA official said that the White House "doesn't want Steve Kappes to reconsider his resignation. That might be the spin they put on it, but they want him out." He said the job had been offered to the former chief of the European Division who retired after a spat with then-CIA Director George Tenet.
Another recently retired top CIA official said he was unsure Kappes had "officially resigned, but I do know he was unhappy."
Without confirming or denying that the job offer had been made, a CIA spokesman asked Newsday to withhold naming the former officer because of his undercover role over the years. He said he had no comment about Goss' personnel plans, but he added that changes at the top are not unusual when new directors come in.
On Friday John E. McLaughlin, a 32-year veteran of the intelligence division who served as acting CIA director before Goss took over, announced that he was retiring. The spokesman said that the retirement had been planned and was unrelated to the Kappes resignation or to other morale problems inside the CIA. It could not be learned yesterday whether the White House had identified Kappes, a respected operations officer, as one of the officials "disloyal" to Bush.
"The president understands and appreciates the sacrifices made by the members of the intelligence community in the war against terrorism," said a White House official of the report that he was purging the CIA of "disloyal" officials. "The suggestion [that he ordered a purge] is inaccurate."
Another former CIA official who retains good contacts within the agency said that Goss and his top aides, who served on his staff when Goss was chairman of the House intelligence committee, believe the agency had relied too much over the years on liaison work with foreign intelligence agencies and had not done enough to develop its own intelligence collection system.
"Goss is not a believer in liaison work," said this retired official. But, he said, the CIA's "best intelligence really comes from liaison work. The CIA is simply not going to develop the assets [agents and case officers] that would meet the intelligence requirements."
Tensions between the White House and the CIA have been the talk of Washington for at least a year, especially as leaks about the handling of the Iraq war have dominated front pages.
Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.