Officials: CIA memo not an order to 'back Bush'
Agency, White House say director's message was misconstrued
From David Ensor
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- CIA and White House officials said Wednesday that a memo from intelligence chief Porter Goss did not order his staff to "back Bush," as a newspaper headline put it Wednesday.
In a memo e-mailed to CIA staff Monday, Goss set out what he called "the rules of the road."
"We support the administration, and its policies, in our work as agency employees," he said. "We do not identify with, support or champion opposition to the administration or its policies. We provide the intelligence as we see it -- and let the facts alone speak to the policy-maker."
The quote was provided by an official in possession of the memo.
A CIA spokesman said the memo was "a statement about the nonpartisan nature of what this agency does," rather than the opposite.
"What that means," said CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano, "is when we are asked to provide intelligence on a particular topic, we do so without shading or shaping the information in any way. It is not a question of partisan support."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that the e-mail was "misconstrued."
"The role of the CIA is intelligence gathering, intelligence analysis and intelligence dissemination. It is to provide policy-makers with the best possible intelligence. It's not to set policy."
He added, "The role of policy-makers is not to get involved with the CIA, either."
He said Goss sent the e-mail for two reasons: As a new director, he is committed to reforming intelligence gathering and to keeping his employees informed about changes.
However, a key Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein of California, said the contents of the memo "need to be explored."
"I think it was not an even-handed memo," Feinstein said in a statement. "As I look at the intelligence community, it should not 'support' or 'oppose' an administration. It should be professional, factual and give the best possible analysis, regardless of where the chips may fall."
The issue of politicization at the CIA has come to the forefront as Goss arrived to shake up the agency after being confirmed in September.
Some Democrats have questioned whether Goss, a former Republican congressman from Florida, will manage the agency in a nonpartisan manner. On the other hand, some Republicans have been critical of what they see as leaks from within the CIA designed to undermine President Bush during the recent election campaign.
Goss himself addressed the issue in his memo, according to quotes provided by officials who have read it:
"Intelligence-related issues have become the fodder of partisan food fights and turf power skirmishes," Goss said. "All the while, the demand for our services and products against a ruthless and unconventional enemy has expended geometrically, and we are expected to deliver instantly."
U.S. intelligence has "reason to be proud of our achievements," he said, but there is a "need to do better."
The existence of the Goss memo was first reported Tuesday in The Washington Post.
The New York Times ran a headline Wednesday saying, "Chief of CIA Tells His Staff to Back Bush."
"It is false," said one official, "quite baffling." The official called The New York Times headline "dopey."
The memo was e-mailed hours after the resignations of two top CIA officials over personality and policy disputes with staff members that Goss brought with him from Capitol Hill, where he served as House Intelligence Committee chairman. (Full story)
In the memo, Goss also told CIA staff that he will soon announce changes in "procedures, organization, senior personnel and areas of focus for our organization," according to officials who have read it.
But Feinstein said she was "disturbed" by news reports that Goss, at the urging of the White House, may be getting rid of people who are deemed liberal or disloyal to the president.
"If what is happening is vindictive, or even worse, a politically motivated purge, then I think that corrective action will need to be taken," she said in her statement. "It is critical that the CIA not be politicized, nor be encouraged to become allied with a particular political party or politician."
Goss said he was actively looking for a new deputy director to replace John McLaughlin, who announced Friday he will leave soon.