RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the CIA has been under a very hot spotlight. The CIA has faced accusations of intelligence failures, both for that attack and on the question of whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. For the past year and a half, the CIA has been under new management and it's undergoing change. But that doesn't appear to be solving all the agency's problems, as NPR's National Security Correspondent Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:

For many new agents, the most exciting area of the CIA is its clandestine operations. It's the cloak and dagger stuff movies are made of. And what often draws in many young applicants, says Larry Johnson, a former CIA intelligence officer.

Mr. LARRY JOHNSON (Former CIA Intelligence Officer): People go in thinking they're going to be either Sean Connery or Jack Ryan, the character from, you know, the Tom Clancy novels. And after a couple of years in, they find out that they're Dilbert. You know, you get attacked by bureaucracy and you get caught up with a bunch of petty nonsense. And it ends up not being terribly rewarding.

NORTHAM: Bureaucracy, and what Johnson calls petty nonsense, could be driving a current exodus from the CIA. Over the past 18 months, dozens of senior officers has left, primarily from the National Clandestine Service, what used to be known as the Directorate of Operations. Some have simply retired after serving at the agency for decades; others who have left point to another reason--the CIA's new leader, Porter Goss. John MacGaffin is a former associate deputy director of operations at the CIA.

Mr. JOHN MACGAFFIN (Former Associate Deputy Director of Operations, Central Intelligence Agency): I think that without doubt, that people in the Directorate of Operations today do not feel that the leadership under Director Goss, at the top most level, supports them, has a clear view for the future, does not believe the agency is organized and headed in a direction, let alone the right direction.

NORTHAM: The exodus also includes several deputy and associate deputy directors of the Clandestine Service. Some are being forced out. Last month, veteran agent and head of the CIA's Counter Terrorism Center was also forced to step down. In an e-mail to a staff, Robert Grenier said that he was told by the head of the Clandestine Service that he wasn't aggressive enough in the war on terrorism. Ruel Marc Gerecht, a former Middle East specialist with the CIA, says many of these departures are simply an effect of Director Goss trying to shake up a dysfunctional organization.

Mr. RUEL MARC GERECHT (Former Middle East Specialist, Central Intelligence Agency): Older officers who I think are resigning now because Porter Goss is attempting to, in their view, intrude on what they consider their prerogatives and privileges. I don't think Porter Goss is fundamentally trying to change the service, but he is intruding on their domain and they don't like it so they are either leaving or being told to leave.

NORTHAM: There's also an increasing friction between the CIA and the Pentagon. Former CIA official Johnson says there has been a long standing competition between the two entities. Johnson says, traditionally, the CIA has been in charge of coordinating the overseas intelligence operations. He says, now, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is trying to change that.

Mr. JOHNSON: Under Don Rumsfeld's stewardship there's been a greater push to allow DOD operatives to go overseas and operate without having to report to, or be under the direction or coordination of the CIA Chief of Station. And, so there has been an expansion in the part of DOD activities. That tension exists.

NORTHAM: Former CIA official, MacGaffin, says it's not a bad thing that a Pentagon and CIA work in tandem, but it has to be organized.

Mr. MACGAFFIN: You can't have the DOD and the CIA talking to the same foreign government overseas trying to figure out who's going to work with them to do what and confusing the heck out of the foreign governments.

NORTHAM: MacGaffin says this sort of situation can make the CIA weaker, affect morale and help push agency officials out the door. The senior officers who leave, take with them important skills--languages such as Arabic and Pashtu, that are essential tools to help understand and fight terrorism. Jennifer Millerwise-Dyck, a CIA spokesperson, says their departure does not cripple the organization which is trying to adapt to a new era.

Ms. JENNIFER MILLERWISE-DYCK (Director of Public Affairs, Central Intelligence Agency): We're not in the middle of a cold war anymore. We have a new leadership team that understands today's threats. They have been living and breathing it for 24 hours a day, seven days a week for several years now and intelligence is a business in which you can never stand still.

NORTHAM: Dyck says the agency is seeing a record number of applicants for jobs. She says more than 120,000 people applied at the CIA last year. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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