The only good thing about taking over an organization that's hit rock bottom is that the only direction to go is up. This thought may have crossed CIA Director Porter Goss' mind as he looked back over his first year in office at Langley this past weekend.
The plucky Goss is fervently trying to reinvigorate the embattled CIA, stung by monumental intelligence failures in recent years. But in contrast to the public bellyaching of some disgruntled agency employees (complaints shamelessly played out in the press), Goss is making progress.
Goss, the former House Intelligence Committee chairman, is in the midst of the long, arduous process of rebuilding the CIA. His reform drive has made significant advances on several fronts, but especially in the Directorate of Analysis, where morale and product quality have skyrocketed.
By many accounts, Goss is also credited with being a real team player in ensuring the successful integration of new Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte into the intelligence community - even though the creation of the DNI position diminished the authority of Goss' office.
Director Goss, a former spook himself, also gets kudos for vastly improving consultation and coordination between the CIA and the Pentagon on counterterrorism issues - a testimony to his willingness to put parochial CIA interests aside in favor of the greater good.
Things get a little shaky when it comes to the agency's cloak-and-dagger side - the Directorate of Operations. The DO, rooted in the proud traditions of "Wild Bill" Donovan and the vaunted World War II exploits of the Office of Strategic Services, has resisted Goss' drive for change.
As mainstream media paint it, the clandestine service has suffered a mass exodus of senior officers since Goss' arrival. Not so; in fact, the departure of senior spooks has been quite limited - and junior officers are clamoring for more change.
It also bears noting that neither the CIA's new head spy nor his staff have become "hostage" to the career bureaucracy. That's no small achievement in any organization - and it goes a long way in explaining the howls of protest coming out of the career service when Goss demands reform of them.
Goss has no plans to rest on early laurels. In a Thursday speech at CIA headquarters, the director said he intends to put more spies overseas under different kinds of cover - and in more countries. He's started on it, vastly increasing the number of CIA operatives abroad.
Equally important is the ongoing reduction in the number of spies taking up desk space at the CIA's campus-like headquarters in northern Virginia. Goss promises "to get more and more of our officers out of Washington" - intuitively knowing from his own ops days that case officers belong in the field, where the targets are.
"You cannot understand people overseas, much less influence them, from Langley," Goss said last week. "You cannot develop deep and trusting relationships with individuals and with governments overseas by flying in and flipping out a U.S. passport," he quipped.
Goss also (wisely) said the CIA would no longer rely solely on its "liaison" relationships with foreign intelligence services to gather information. No wonder: Remember the (German-run) Iraqi agent "Curveball" and his claims about Iraqi mobile biological labs? The director said, "Unilateral operations will return to be part of the governing paradigm for the CIA," too. Adding: "We are getting more and more global. We opened new stations and bases and we've reopened some old ones. We are developing new and creative ways."
Goss still has more work to do - lots: Deep budget cuts and bad policies after the Cold War, including over-reliance on high-tech satellites (as opposed to low-tech human spying) devastated Langley. Bad decisions undoubtedly increased the likelihood of 9/11 and abysmal pre-war Iraqi WMD intelligence.
Considering America's challenges - from Iranian/North Korean nukes to the Iraqi/Afghan insurgencies to the rise of China - the success of Goss' Herculean efforts at CIA is critical to our national security.
He's moving CIA in the right direction - the opposition's just making it take longer to get there.
Which is why the covert operations inside (and outside) Langley's gates to undermine him need to stop: The next time a CIA director tells the president that a reason for going to war is a "slam dunk," it better be just that.
Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow. His book, "A Devil's Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States," is just out
First appeared in the New York Post