WASHINGTON — Porter Goss' initial moves as CIA director appear to herald a post- election purge at the already troubled spy agency, according to current and former top U.S. intelligence officials. Goss, a former Republican congressman, has put at least four former Capitol Hill Republican staffers into top positions in his CIA office and has given them broad authority to make personnel and restructuring decisions, the current and former intelligence officials said.
One of the aides, whose identity Knight Ridder is not disclosing because he served under cover, has been "going around telling people they are to fire 80 to 90 people" in the Directorate of Operations, the CIA's covert arm, according to a former official.
His account was repeated by several knowledgeable current and former officials who maintain close ties to the agency.
Tensions between an incoming CIA director and the agency's veterans, particularly in the Directorate of Operations, are common, as they are in any large institution resistant to change. Most observers agree the CIA, along with the rest of the U.S. intelligence community, is in need of reform. A Senate Intelligence Committee report issued in July found the CIA's prewar assessment that Iraq had hidden weapons of mass destruction programs was exaggerated, lacked evidence and was driven by "group think."
The Directorate of Operations, which oversees clandestine intelligence collection, has been criticized in particular for failing to recruit human spies in Iraq who might have given an accurate picture of Saddam Hussein's regime and WMD programs.
Goss, who was sworn in Sept. 24 to replace George Tenet, pledged during his confirmation hearings he would be a nonpartisan CIA director.
But the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said they were concerned by the partisan affiliation of Goss' team.
"If he has brought strongly partisan staff with him _ and he has _ that seems to call (Goss's pledge) into question," said another top official, who recently left the CIA.
A CIA spokesman, who asked to remain unnamed, said Goss has made no decisions on restructuring.
"We are not at the structural phase yet," the spokesman said. "These people ought to be given a little time. It's been less than a month since he's (Goss) been sworn in. That goes for some of the people he has brought with him."
He denied the reports up to 90 people will be ousted from their jobs, saying "I have heard no conversations to support any changes close to that number as of yet.
"It's kind of interesting that Mr. Goss was accused (in his confirmation hearings) of not being reform-minded enough" and is now being criticized for considering sweeping reforms of the agency, the spokesman added.
Goss has kept an extremely low profile since taking over the helm of the CIA and has moved to limit the flow of public information about the agency.
In a speech to agency employees the day he was sworn in, Goss pledged to rebuild the CIA's human-spying capabilities, a theme he pressed repeatedly as chairman of the House intelligence committee.
"I think we need to rebuild a true global capability" and "more eyes and ears everywhere," he said in the address, which was first reported by The Washington Post.
He also promised to reduce the rotation of intelligence officers from subject to subject, to increase what he called "time on target."
Goss brought with him three former Republican staffers from the House intelligence panel: Pat Murray, who was his chief of staff; Merrill Moorehead, senior adviser on strategic programs; and Joseph Jakub, senior adviser on operations and analysis.
The fourth aide, whose name Knight Ridder is withholding, worked for some time as a GOP congressional staffer.
Goss also appointed as a senior adviser Michael Kostiw, a former CIA officer who once ran for Congress as a Republican from Florida, Goss' home state. Goss appointed Kostiw as the CIA's executive director, but Kostiw withdrew earlier this month after it became known he had resigned from the agency under pressure in the early 1980s after he was caught shoplifting. Charges against him were dropped at the time.
Goss took over the CIA at a time of bitter and semi-open struggles between the Bush administration and U.S. intelligence agencies.
Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and, to some extent, President Bush have expressed anger at the CIA for intelligence estimates on such issues as Saddam's links with al-Qaida that do not conform with White House views.
CIA officers and other U.S. officials, meanwhile, complain the White House has tried to shift blame for missteps in Iraq to U.S. intelligence agencies.
"There's open war between the CIA and the White House," said a senior administration official. "And the White House knows it."
One intelligence official said Goss and his aides already have let it be known that there will be no repeat of what happened this summer when a senior CIA counterterrorism specialist published a book, with the agency's approval, charging that Bush administration policies, especially the invasion of Iraq, have enraged the Islamic world and created new recruits for al-Qaida.
The book, "Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror," was published under the pseudonym "Anonymous."
"There will be no more 'Imperial Hubris' books," said the intelligence official. "The word is out: The place is under lockdown."