Skip to comments.CIA faces spy shortages as staffers go private
Posted on 09/30/2005 8:32:37 PM PDT by Khurkris
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As CIA Director Porter Goss tries to rebuild the agency's global operations, he faces a shortage of experienced spies created by a post-September 11 stampede to the private sector, current and former intelligence officials say.
Goss, who a year ago inherited a CIA wracked by criticism of intelligence failures over Iraq and the September 11, 2001, attacks, has come under fire from critics about the publicized departures of several high-level clandestine officers.
Reform advocates see the loss of senior officials as a natural consequence of changes intended to root out an old guard blamed for lapses that prompted Congress to put the CIA under a new director of national intelligence, John Negroponte.
"The CIA and the intelligence community failed this country pretty badly. That's why there's new leadership at the CIA. Change is not easy," said Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives intelligence committee.
But current and former officials say Goss does face problems stemming from the agency's reliance on a robust private contracting market for skilled intelligence and security workers that has grown more lucrative since the September 11, 2001, attacks and the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
"Goss realizes he has a major problem in the (clandestine service) because he's having major bailouts among the old guard and also retention problems all the way down the ranks," said a former clandestine officer.
Experienced spies have been surrendering their blue staff badges and leaving the CIA in droves, often to return the next day as better paid, green-badged private contractors, current and former officials say.
But as contractors, they can no longer supervise fresh recruits at a time when the CIA is pursuing a 50 percent increase in spies. Nor can they supplement a pool of experienced operatives from which the agency traditionally draws its top leaders.
"You've got a seismic shift with the contractor issue," said a intelligence official who views the trend as byproduct of low morale among clandestine staff officers.
"It's frankly scary to look at the number of middle managers that are diving out with 10, 15, 20 years in because they're going to make $175,000 or $200,000. It reduces what we call the 'blue badges' -- government people with clearances."
PAY IS BETTER FOR PRIVATE CONTRACTORS
A $200,000-a-year contracting salary compares with annual pay of about $135,000 for experienced CIA staffers at the very top of the scale used to set federal salaries in Washington.
"Often you leave behind the deadwood. The deadwood gets in charge, and then even more people move on," the official said.
CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise Dyck said Goss is determined to stem the trend toward private contracting by rebuilding the blue-badged workforce as CIA operations expand worldwide.
"He believes we should be primarily a blue-badged workforce, and he intends to build that way," she said.
Officials say the U.S. Congress set the stage for today's shortage of experienced staff by ordering a 17 percent across-the-board reduction in agency personnel in the mid-1990s after the Cold War.
The Directorate of Operations, which runs CIA clandestine activities, has dwindled to fewer than 5,000 staff members from a peak of over 7,000 in the 1970s, intelligence sources say.
To supplement the clandestine ranks, Goss issued an appeal to former senior intelligence officers over the summer to consider returning to help train new recruits.
But already, inexperienced clandestine officers have shown up at the CIA's Baghdad and Kabul stations in numbers that some current and former officials find worrying.
"They're great places to learn. But where are the people to lead?" complained a former senior clandestine officer. "Running around Afghanistan trying to recruit Afghans is a piece of cake compared with trying to recruit an Iranian nuclear scientist."
But Goss' success could depend on how he is perceived by the remaining clandestine staff.
He has been portrayed as a director struggling against opposition from clandestine officers who some say are offended by his reliance on a personal staff known to insiders as the "Gosslings."
"We hear people feel like there's no strategic vision coming out of Goss. He's behind a wall of staff and his staff are disruptive," said a congressional aide briefed by CIA officials.
Added a former clandestine officer with long experience in world hot spots: "The old CIA is finished. What happens now, I don't know."
Change is a b*tch. But there is no way around it. The old system no longer worked.
Like mom always used to say, "If the hamburger flipping job doesn't work out, you can always work for the Liberal MSM until something comes along."
One of my colleagues is ex-CIA and has suggested that I consider the CIA after graduation...
Could just as easily be rats deserting a ship. We know that the CIA and FBI were riddled with Clinton plants and KGB moles. They were more than worthless, they were harmful and often working against us. Maybe they know Goss is serious about straightrening things out.
Does anyone really think George Tenet saying that Iraq had WMDs was a slam dunk was not a set up for this administration? That set the stage for all the left is saying today.
The real mystery to me is why Bush rewards Tenet and Clinton.
It will take time, but it will rebuild.