WASHINGTON -- The top two officials in the CIA's clandestine service have resigned after confrontations with the agency's new leadership in an unusually public shake-up at the nation's spy service.
The CIA's deputy director for operations Stephen Kappes and his immediate deputy, Michael Sulick, told colleagues at a morning meeting that they are leaving the agency. It's unclear if they elected to depart or were asked to step down.
CIA director Porter Goss, who took the agency's helm in late September, thanked Kappes and Sulick for their service in a statement released Monday evening.
Both men were part of the CIA's Directorate of Operations, or clandestine service, which is responsible for covert operations around the globe.
Former agency officials said there are concerns that some officers in the CIA's counterterrorist center, which is under the operations directorate, and elsewhere may be asked to resign, or may be 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."
Signals from elsewhere pointed to internal conflict.
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 as Goss gets settled.
A clandestine officer in the 1960s but more recently a Republican congressman, Goss promised to be a reformer during his confirmation hearings.
Goss brought with him 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.
Just what is going on inside the CIA is a matter of perspective.
To some, Goss was brought in to make much-needed changes to the agency that came under fire for shortfalls leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks and the flawed prewar intelligence on Iraq. They say Goss is making personnel changes, as any incoming director would.
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.
Cannistraro said there is concern within the agency that Vice President Cheney is ordering changes to avenge leaks to the media indicating there was no connection between former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida.
A spokesman for Cheney did not return a call seeking comment.
Earlier Monday, 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.
A former head of the Directorate of Operations, Thomas Twetten, described the situation at the CIA as "a disaster."
"What is happening is that somebody in high places -- or several persons in high places -- have decided that CIA should be punished," said Twetten, who did his CIA training with Goss and has been trying to reach him in recent weeks.
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 to 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."
A front-runner for Kappes' job is the current director of the CIA's counterterrorist center, who cannot be publicly identified because he is undercover, said an intelligence official, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
Goss has other openings to fill. Also last week, the agency's No. 2 official, John McLaughlin, retired.
Gauging the mood at the CIA, which has thousands of people at its Northern Virginia headquarters and around the globe, is difficult. Former officials describe and atmosphere of nervousness and distrust.
Mike Scheuer, who retired from the clandestine service on Friday to speak more publicly on the problems in the war on terrorism, said that rank-and-file officers hear about the turmoil, but stay busy with work.
But "I think, over time, it is not a good thing," Scheuer said. "Whatever (Goss) is going to do, he ought to do and get it over with and move on."