Spy Versus Spy

On Thursday morning, feelings of anticipatory glee that had been rising all week at the CIA's Langley, Virginia, headquarters briefly ebbed. This was not out of sorrow at George Tenet's resignation announcement. Rather, it was about what Tenet's departure might mean in terms of another long-awaited staffing change.

A notice had been sent round earlier in the week that on Friday morning, Jim Pavitt, the deputy director of operations -- the man who oversees the agency's spies and covert operators -- would be addressing the Directorate of Operations staff in "the Bubble," Langley's auditorium. The unofficial but reliable word was that Pavitt was going to announce his retirement, an event old and new hands alike have eagerly anticipated for some time. But upon Tenet's announcement, Directorate of Operations veterans in and out of the building shuddered: Would Tenet's resignation perhaps cause Pavitt to reconsider and stay?

By the end of the afternoon, sighs of relief could be heard in the halls and over fiber-optic networks as news organizations began to report that Pavitt would, in fact, be announcing his plans to retire as scheduled.

The next few days will undoubtedly be full of the usual Washington postmortems on Tenet. There will be questions: Was he pushed or did he jump? Were the forthcoming September 11 and Iraq reports going to be too much to weather? What will his legacy be? Will people remember his gregarious style with the CIA's rank and file, and his deftness in navigating the perilous political shoals of Washington? I doubt we'll hear much about how he ran the agency, whom he staffed its top slots with, and what some of those people have done.

Such a line of inquiry presupposes a fundamental notion: that the agency's prime function should be effectively recruiting spies and doing what it takes to get the best intelligence possible, plus subjecting that intelligence to the most rigorous analysis and consideration -- and that you'd want exceptionally experienced and seasoned veterans heading up the efforts to accomplish these missions, not to mention the best support elements for them.

Tenet can, of course, be forgiven for not actually having been a spy; few of the agency's chiefs have had that experience, owing their time on Langley's seventh floor mainly to presidential political considerations. But active, retired, and semi-retired case officers have all made the same point: Pavitt lacked sufficient field experience to be running the Directorate of Operations. A veteran of four foreign postings spanning only 10 years of field experience (out of a 30-year career) -- when his name comes up, he's often derisively referred to as "chief of station, Luxembourg" -- he has spent the last two decades as a creature of Washington. "There is no serving [Directorate of Operations] officer who hasn't watched him or known him who is prepared to say he knows enough about operations, because he hasn't done enough of them," a highly respected retired senior CIA official told me recently. "But he's convinced of his own brilliance, even if others are not."

In addition, CIA officers have been critical of the agency's executive director, H.B. "Buzzy" Krongard. While the CIA has its director (who, though effectively the czar of the entire intelligence community, doesn't have budgetary control over the whole community) and deputy director (John McLaughlin), the day-to-day operational head of the agency is Krongard.

Unlike the director and deputy-director positions, the executive director slot is not subject to Senate confirmation. This was fortunate for Krongard, whom Tenet brought to the CIA at age 64 from investment banking (and bereft of any actual intelligence experience). Krongard's most notable, if not notorious, achievements have included an unsuccessful attempt to restructure the agency's pay-grade structure (Congress thought it bizarre and only gave Krongard a pilot program), as well as subverting a decade-old recommendation that the agency's Directorate of Administration be moved under the executive director's control.

Alas for the Directorate of Administration, originally made up of several subdirectorates that included finance, security, and personnel. Krongard took the Directorate of Administration under his aegis and then fractured its five divisions into 15. "Buzzy was very good at investment banking," says a CIA veteran. "But the [Directorate of Administration] was not designed to be an investment bank, or to be run by an investment banker."

There have, of course, been improvements under Tenet's tenure -- not hard when you've had seven years at a job where the occupational life span is not unlike that of a Spinal Tap drummer. And there is hope for the future: Pavitt's likely replacement will be either the ex-Special Forces Arabist Hugh Turner or Stephen Kappes, an officer who reportedly ran a very successful Russian agent until the Russians arrested him. Though Kappes -- a former Near East Division chief and veteran of several overseas station chief stints -- seems the odds-on favorite, also in the mix is Robert Cardena, the current Baghdad station chief.

Perhaps more interesting, though, are the rumors regarding Tenet's successor. Reportedly tired of doing battle with the Pentagon and all manner of committees and commissions probing the CIA's failures, Tenet packed it in not only out of battle fatigue, but also as a way to clear the path for future intelligence reforms. In both executive and legislative circles, there's been a renewed interest in reconstituting the intelligence community, and it's likely that the CIA director and deputy director's responsibilities will be limited to just that, and not include the entire intelligence community-wide portfolio. The rumor -- perhaps wishful thinking, perhaps not -- as to who might assume one of those posts: current Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

Jason Vest is a Prospect senior correspondent.

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