WASHINGTON—CIA Director Porter Goss faced tough questions Thursday after a speech to agency employees marking his one-year anniversary as head of the troubled spy agency, current and former intelligence officials said.
The unusually caustic session in the CIA auditorium underscored what current and former officials said are serious morale problems caused by the leadership style of Goss and his top aides and the departures of experienced senior intelligence officers from an agency on the front line of the fight against terrorism.
One intelligence official termed the session "bizarre" and suggested it was symptomatic of deeper turmoil at the agency.
Robert Richer, the No. 2 official in the agency's covert Directorate of Operations, the spy service, announced his resignation earlier this month, the latest in a string of top CIA managers who've left since Goss took over.
Another senior officer in the operations directorate who works on weapons of mass destruction issues and whose identity is kept secret informed his staff Thursday that he's also leaving, according to a former top CIA official.
Goss called an "all hands" meeting Thursday at a white-domed auditorium at CIA headquarters known as "the Bubble" to sketch out his vision for the agency's future.
According to a text of the speech provided by the CIA, Goss said that the agency has helped in the capture and killing of "dozens of high-level" al-Qaida operatives and "our efforts have unquestionably saved American lives at home and abroad."
The CIA is becoming "more unilateral" and less dependent on the spy services of other countries and is recruiting more agents, he said. It also has opened more stations overseas, is stepping up the recruitment of foreign-language speakers, including newly naturalized Americans, and is finding ways to put more officers in more places.
In a question-and-answer session, several CIA officers expressed unhappiness, according to an official who witnessed the exchange.
"With all due respect ... I love the agency and respect you. It was a vanilla speech," one officer was quoted as telling Goss, pleading for "meat to chew on."
A second officer raised concerns about Richer's departure and the state of the operations directorate. In November, the top two leaders of the directorate, Steven Kappes and Michael Sulick, quit in a dispute with aides that Goss, a former Florida congressman, brought with him from Capitol Hill.
The current and former officials who described the session spoke on condition of anonymity because of their jobs, but said they were speaking out because of concern over the state of the CIA.
Officials previously have said that Goss has delegated extraordinary powers to his Capitol Hill aides in an effort to revamp the agency after it was stung by failures before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and inaccurate pre-war assessments of Iraq's weapons programs.
Paul Gimigliano, a CIA spokesman, declined to discuss specific exchanges between Goss and his audience.
"These are big issues out there for the agency to tackle. Mr. Goss is a strong believer in open communication within the CIA family," he said.
James Pavitt, Kappes' predecessor as chief of the agency's covert wing, said that while he hadn't yet heard of Thursday's exchanges, he wasn't surprised "that there is great, great unhappiness on the part of the men and women of the CIA," citing what he called a "lack of leadership."
The CIA has faced diminished status since the creation earlier this year of the new post of director of national intelligence, which took over the CIA director's job of overseeing all 15 U.S. intelligence agencies.
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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