WASHINGTON — The White House planned to quickly nominate a new CIA director to replace outgoing Porter Goss, who offered little explanation in announcing his resignation from the embattled agency.
The leading candidate to replace him is Air Force General Michael Hayden, top deputy to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, said a senior administration official. An announcement could come as early as Monday.
Hayden was National Security Agency director until becoming the nation’s No. 2 intelligence official a year ago. Since December, he has aggressively defended the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program. He was one of its chief architects.
Goss was scheduled to deliver a commencement speech Saturday at Ohio’s Tiffin University, one of a growing number of schools to offer national security studies programs.
Goss spent 40 years in federal and local government, including 16 years as a congressman and 10 years as a CIA operative in the 1960s and ’70s. He stepped down as the agency’s director after 19 tumultuous months, as the agency struggled to forge a new identity in an era of government overhauls stemming from Sept. 11 and the flawed prewar intelligence on Iraq.
He offered little publicly to explain his decision.
“CIA remains the gold standard,” he said in a statement. “When I came to CIA in September of 2004, I wanted to accomplish some very specific things, and we have made great strides on all fronts.”
But the agency, like the Bush administration, has been far from peaceful. Goss’ departure was the White House’s third major personnel move in just over a month, aimed at reinvigorating President Bush’s second term.
Knowledgeable Republicans said Friday night that Hayden was thought to top Bush’s short list of candidates to replace Goss. Among others mentioned were Bush’s homeland security adviser, Frances Fragos Townsend; David Shedd, Negroponte’s chief of staff; and Mary Margaret Graham, Negroponte’s deputy for intelligence collection.
It was not clear why Goss resigned so unexpectedly. An intelligence official, speaking only on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his position, said Goss had stood up for the agency when there were differences with Negroponte’s office, which was created about a year ago.
Goss was taking a stand against “micromanagement,” the official said, and wanted the agency to “remain what its name says, the ‘Central’ Intelligence Agency.”
With the backing of the White House, Negroponte recently raised with Goss the prospect that he should leave, and the two talked about that possibility, a senior administration official said. That official also spoke on condition of anonymity, in order to give a fuller account of events.
Negroponte, Goss’ classmate at Yale University, said in a statement that Goss worked tirelessly during a CIA transition period. “As my friend for almost 50 years, I will miss Porter’s day-to-day counsel,” he said.
Agency officials dismissed suggestions that the resignation was tied to controversy surrounding the CIA’s executive director, Kyle “Dusty” Foggo. The FBI is investigating whether Foggo’s longtime friend, defense contractor Brent Wilkes, provided prostitutes, limousines and hotel suites to a California congressman who pleaded guilty to taking bribes from Wilkes and others in exchange for government contracts.
CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said Goss’ resignation also was not related to the recent firing of a CIA officer the director said had unauthorized contacts with the press — a firing that found support within the agency and the White House.
Bush nominated Goss in 2004, in the midst of a re-election campaign that was riddled with accusations about the botched prewar intelligence on Iraq. Bush said he would rely on the advice of Goss on the sensitive issue of intelligence reform.
Goss, the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, came under fire almost immediately, in part because he brought with him several top aides from Congress who were considered highly political for the CIA. They developed particularly poor relations with segments of the agency’s clandestine service.
By December, Congress passed the most sweeping intelligence overhaul in 50 years. One result: The CIA that took pride in being the premier element of the spy community found itself relegated to a crowded second tier of 15 other agencies.
Hayden, the highest ranking military intelligence officer, has been brought into management challenges before. In 1999, he was tapped to shake up the National Security Agency, as the Internet and new communications tools were frustrating the agency’s eavesdroppers.
With a Hayden nomination, Democrats would be sure to seize on his intimate connection to Bush’s anti-terrorist surveillance program, which has drawn the ire of even some Republicans.
Bush aides have been looking for ways to rescue his presidency from sagging poll ratings and difficulties with the Iraq war and his agenda in Congress.
The shake-up began with the resignation of Andrew Card as chief of staff and his replacement by Joshua Bolten. Other changes have included the replacement of press secretary Scott McClellan with Fox News commentator Tony Snow.
It wasn’t immediately clear what’s next for Goss, 67. He was supposed to retire after representing a Republican district on Florida’s West Coast for 16 years, but he became CIA director when Bush called in 2004.
Many former directors take consulting positions on corporate boards. Goss and his wife own a central Virginia farm, where they raise cattle, sheep and chickens.