After day of cabinet resignations, many fear a shift to the right

Knight Ridder NewspapersNovember 17, 2004 

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Colin Powell's resignation and a flood of high-level departures at the State Department and CIA remove the cautionary voices that had often acted as a brake on President Bush's aggressive foreign policy.

U.S. officials and foreign policy analysts said Monday that by agreeing to Powell's departure and approving a purge by new CIA chief Porter Goss, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney appear to be eliminating the few independent centers of power in the U.S. national security apparatus and cementing the system under their personal control.

Powell and his State Department team - quietly backed by the intelligence community - argued often for a foreign policy that was more inclusive of allies and that relied on diplomacy and coercion rather than on force to deal with adversaries.

They lost more battles than they won.

Powell, who friends said had hoped to stay on a little longer, will be replaced at the State Department by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, said a senior administration official. Rice is far closer personally to Bush.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, a major architect of the Iraq war along with Bush and Cheney, appears to be staying for now, signaling that the White House believes its much-criticized Iraq policies are on the right track.

"Letting him go would be an admission of failure," said one senior administration official who, like others, requested anonymity because of the White House's distaste for dissent.

"Now," the official said, "they've got no one left to blame but themselves if things don't go right."

"We are seeing the consummation of the revolution," said Ivo Daalder, a scholar at the Washington-based Brookings Institution and author of a book on Bush's foreign policy.

"Anybody who thought that a `Bush 2' foreign policy would be a more moderate, multilateral, (John) Kerry-like foreign policy just doesn't understand this president, or this election," Daalder said.

Powell's resignation was the most prominent of a string of resignations that were announced or are in the works.

At the CIA Monday morning, Goss announced the resignations of Deputy Director for Operations Stephen Kappes, who heads the clandestine service, and his deputy Michael Sulick. Both had clashed with Goss over suggestions that CIA counterintelligence officers should investigate leaks to the media, intelligence officials said.

Goss, a former Republican congressman from Florida, and a team of four aides he brought from the House Intelligence Committee, have begun a post-election purge of the Operations Directorate that's infuriated and alarmed current and former U.S. intelligence officials.

Many officials believe that the CIA, particularly the DO, as the Operations Directorate is known, is in dire need of reform. The agency was largely unable to penetrate either al-Qaida or Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime and critics charge that it's become too risk-averse and bureaucratic.

But, they said, the way Goss and his aides have proceeded has caused turmoil during heightened intelligence-gathering challenges. It smacks of partisanship and retaliation for the agency's production of analysis that doesn't support White House policy, they said.

"There is no doubt that changes needed to take place at the CIA, and people should be held accountable for past failures," Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. "However, the departure of highly respected and competent individuals at such a crucial time is a grave concern."

"Goss must take immediate steps to stabilize the situation at the CIA," he said.

"What Goss has done with his four minions is just appalling because it strikes at the heart of morale, which was not good to begin with," said Stanley Bedlington, a counterterrorism expert who spent 17 years at the CIA. "To upset the intelligence machine to the extent that it has been upset is the height of foolishness."

Others said that the CIA is in need of shock therapy.

"The more turmoil, the better. The place is dysfunctional," said one former CIA officer, who requested anonymity. "I'm not too sure there is a right way (to institute change). You are going into a hornets' nest."

Goss said Kappes and Sulick "honorably served their nation and this agency with distinction for many years."

"There will be no gap in our operations fighting the global war on terror, nor in any of our other vital activities," Goss added. He said he asked the current head of the Counterterrorist Center to take Kappes' place. Knight Ridder is withholding his name because he was a covert operative.

Three senior administration officials charged that Goss and his aides are carrying out a "White House-directed purge." One said it appears to be directed at "everybody who said there was no connection between Iraq and al-Qaida and everybody who they think leaked information that undercut what the administration was claiming."

Many intelligence and other officials questioned the administration's claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaida, claims that subsequent investigations have found to be erroneous. They also challenged White House assessments about political and economic progress in Iraq.

Cheney, they said, was particularly angered by reports, first carried by Knight Ridder, that the CIA had been unable to find any conclusive evidence tying Saddam's regime to Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi. Cheney had ordered the CIA to take another look at possible links among Saddam, Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden, the official said, and was angered when a CIA briefer told him the results of the inquiry.

"This is a classic case of shooting the messenger," said one senior official. "Unfortunately, they're the same messengers we're counting on to warn us of the next al-Qaida attack."

At the State Department, officials said, Powell is expected to be accompanied out the door by virtually his entire management team: Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage; Undersecretary for Political Affairs Marc Grossman, the department's No. 3 official; Undersecretary for Management Grant Green; and several others.

"They're going to purge the State Department," said one of the senior officials, adding that he'd heard White House officials say: "The State Department doesn't get it. They're not on the president's message."

Powell will be sorely missed among career employees, not so much for his policy successes, but because he made personnel a priority and used his political clout to wrest much-needed funds and hiring authority from Congress.

Powell imbued "a sense of self-worth that's a rare commodity for the civil service and the foreign service that works here," a mid-level official said. "It hasn't sunk into folks around here that we're about to lose our lord and protector."

One female officer said she will be forever endeared to Powell's team for a minor, but telling, change. At the State Department, historically a male bastion, the female bathrooms still had urinals. Now, two on the first floor of the department's main building do not.

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(John Walcott contributed to this report.)

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