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Changes Prompt Wave of Optimism at CIA

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep in Baghdad.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And here in Los Angeles, I'm Renee Montagne.

At the CIA's sprawling headquarters in Langley, Virginia, staffers are still digesting recent changes. Last Friday, Porter Goss resigned, abruptly, as head of the agency. Then came word that Air Force General Michael Hayden was picked to succeed him. There's also word that a revered ex-spy might be returning to the agency as Gen. Hayden's deputy.

CIA insiders tell NPR it's all still sinking in and that it adds up to mostly good news. For the first time in a long time, staffers think the CIA is headed in the right direction.

NPR's Mary Louise Kelly reports.

MARY LOUISE KELLY reporting:

Here's a telling story about how events of the last few days are playing at the CIA: John McLaughlin, who ran the agency as acting director before Porter Goss took over, says his cell phone hasn't stopped ringing. On the line are other recently departed CIA officials now wondering if they should go back.

Mr. JOHN McLAUGHLIN (Former Acting Director, CIA): I'm sure there are a lot of people saying to themselves, gee, I wouldn't have left if I knew this was the ultimate turn of events.

KELLY: McLaughlin says some of the dozens of officials who left under Goss' tenure may now return, though many have already started building new lives. Some of the new enthusiasm stems from Gen. Hayden's nomination. McLaughlin calls him a true professional who will be well received at Langley.

John Gannon agrees. Gannon is a former head of the CIA's analytic branch.

Mr. JOHN GANNON (Former Deputy Director, Analytic Branch, CIA): I just can't imagine a stronger appointment. You know, there're some times when, in my mind, there's no downside, when there's sort of no dark corner you can take a story. I just think this is all light.

KELLY: Gannon and three other CIA veterans all say they think it's a total nonissue that Hayden is a military man. Hayden's four stars have prompted concern on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers are worried about the Pentagon gobbling up control of U.S. spy efforts. But that fear does not seem to resonate among the CIA officials we reached.

Here's John McLaughlin.

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: Gen. Hayden is, first and foremost, an intelligence officer and I think he has shown in the past that he's quite willing to oppose the Defense Department on matters of principle, even though he wears the uniform.

KELLY: Another positive sign for the CIA came in remarks from National Intelligence Chief John Negroponte. Negroponte held an unusual briefing at the White House this week. He told reporters it's his intent that the CIA be just that: the Central Intelligence Agency.

Mr. JOHN NEGROPONTE (Chief of National Intelligence): The CIA must remain the intelligence community's premier human intelligence agency.

KELLY: And not just that.

Mr. NEGROPONTE: With respect to analysis, the CIA will remain the intelligence community's center of excellence.

KELLY: Neither of those remarks was a given when Negroponte took over U.S. spy operations a year ago. There was talk of breaking up the CIA, of possibly pruning it back to just a clandestine spy service with no analytic functions. Negroponte now appears to have closed the door on that prospect, to the relief of many at the CIA. Perhaps though the biggest cause for celebration at Langley this week is the prospect of the return of Stephen Kappes. Kappes is a legendary case officer. He's the man the CIA sent to talk Muammar Qaddafi into giving up Libya's weapons programs.

Kappes was head of the clandestine service by the time Porter Goss arrived at the CIA. But Kappes clashed with Goss' new management team and within weeks, he walked out. That triggered a flood of high-level resignations. Now Kappes has been invited back. He's been offered the number two job at the CIA.

Mr. ROBERT HUTCHINGS (Former Head of the National Intelligence Council): He's very well regarded in the agency, and so I think this will be seen as arresting the freefall of the agency.

KELLY: That's Robert Hutchings, a former head of the National Intelligence Council. He reads the reinstatement of Steven Kappes as a sign that Negroponte and the White House want to undo some of Porter Goss' decisions. That's a good thing, Hutchings says, if a little late.

Mr. HUTCHINGS: Even if the direction of change is a good one, it is going to be yet another period of chaos and change and transition. And this now makes two or three straight years of this, which is quite a reckless way to proceed.

KELLY: Indeed, John McLaughlin emphasizes stability is key now. He urges the Senate to confirm Hayden and Kappes, get them into place and let the CIA get on with its mission. John Gannon adds, this doesn't mean anything gets easy. It just means the decisions ahead will be in the hands of smart people.

Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
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