The CIA's Deputy Director for Operations Stephen Kappes and his immediate deputy, Michael Sulick, told colleagues Monday that they were departing the agency, which was heavily criticized for prewar intelligence lapses in Iraq and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It's unclear whether Kappes and Sulick resigned voluntarily or were asked to step down.
Last week, the agency's No. 2 official, John McLaughlin, also retired, citing personal reasons.
The defections have created turmoil at the spy organization. The Washington Post reports that Goss has moved to calm the waters by assuring employees he doesn't have a partisan agenda.
"We provide the intelligence as we see it and let the facts alone speak to the policymakers," Goss said in an e-mail message to the troops that was read to the Post by agency employees.
Nevertheless, Goss also told employees to brace for "a series of changes" in the weeks ahead.
Current agency officials are not allowed to talk with the media without permission, but have been in touch with former intelligence officials.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, former officials described intense friction within the agency with Goss now in charge. And some say there are concerns that more officers at the CIA's counterterrorist center and elsewhere may be asked to resign or told that they no longer have a future at the agency.
"It is very fair to say there is tremendous turmoil in the middle ranks of the clandestine service today," said Vince Cannistraro, former CIA counterterrorism chief. "There may be eight people pushed out."
Cannistraro said there is concern within the agency that Vice President Dick Cheney is ordering changes to avenge leaks to the media indicating there was no connection between former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda terrorists. A spokesman for Cheney did not return a call seeking comment.
Goss brought with him to the CIA four staff members from the House Intelligence Committee, which he led for nearly eight years ending in August. Since then, Kappes and Sulick have been involved in heated debates — some have described them as feuds — with those senior aides to Goss.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, said Goss' decision "to take with him several staff with reputations for partisanship was very troubling, and he now faces rumors of a partisan purge at the CIA."
Rockefeller, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that while changes were necessary at the CIA, Goss needed to take "immediate steps to stabilize the situation ... and he must provide some explanation for this rash of departures among senior officials."
White House press secretary Scott McClellan expressed President Bush's support for Goss. "Every time there are changes in leadership, there are changes elsewhere," McClellan said.
The House Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, California Rep. Jane Harman, said on CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday that the situation at the CIA was largely the product of "a highly partisan, inexperienced staff" that Goss brought with him.
"Many of us worked with that staff in the House. Frankly, on both sides of the aisle in the committee, we were happy to see them go," she said.
Just what is going on inside the CIA is a matter of perspective. To some, Goss is making personal changes, as any incoming director would. Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, goes further, saying Goss is instituting a much-needed shakeup.
"Porter Goss is on the right track," McCain said Sunday, also on CBS. McCain said the kind of personnel changes that have been reported as causing dissent within the CIA ranks are absolutely necessary. "He is being savaged by these people that want the status quo, and the status quo is not satisfactory."
To others, Goss' aides are employing a brusque management style that is alienating career officials with decades of experience.
Kappes has been with the agency for 23 years and has extensive experience in the Middle East. A former senior intelligence official credited Kappes with being "principally responsible" for the operation that resulted in Libya's decision to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction.
Sulick has also had a lengthy career with multiple overseas assignments. Before becoming Kappes' deputy, he headed the agency's counterintelligence division.
The clandestine service is known for having a character and spirit distinct from the other elements of the CIA, similar to the way the Marines have a more overstated identity compared with the other branches of the military. Former officials say the clandestine service attracts strong personalities.
Goss made waves with the clandestine service even before he was nominated to head the CIA.
Officials as senior as former CIA Director George Tenet fumed over legislation written and approved by Goss' committee this summer, which said the clandestine service "needs fixing" and warned that the unit could become a "stilted bureaucracy incapable of even the slightest bit of success."