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Ex-spy is picked for key CIA job

He quit under Goss but comes back to run clandestine operations.

September 15, 2007|Greg Miller | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Three years after he quit the CIA in a high- profile clash with agency leaders, veteran spy Michael J. Sulick was brought back into the fold on Friday and put in charge of running the CIA's clandestine operations.

In rehiring Sulick, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden is turning to a widely respected case officer who spent the bulk of his overseas career in Cold War outposts.

Sulick will take over the agency's main spying directorate at a time when it is faced with the challenge of absorbing hundreds hired since the Sept. 11 attacks while struggling to get better intelligence on the evolving terrorist threat and the insurgency in Iraq.

Hayden's choice of Sulick also continues a course of seeking to undo personnel moves that took place during the tumultuous tenure of CIA Director Porter J. Goss.

In a statement to the CIA workforce Friday, Hayden described Sulick as "a proven leader" who "knows that espionage demands constant change and adaptation."

Sulick will begin serving as director of the National Clandestine Service at the end of the month, a job that puts him in charge not only of the CIA's overseas spies, but also includes responsibility for monitoring the activities of other services, such as the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Sulick will succeed Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who last month announced his plan to retire.

Sulick will be reunited with Stephen Kappes, who also quit during the Goss regime in 2004 but was brought back by Hayden, to serve as deputy director, the agency's No. 2 post.

Before their temporary retirements, Kappes and Sulick were the top two officials in the agency's directorate of operations, the division that deploys case officers around the world to gather intelligence on terrorist networks, foreign governments and other targets.

They quit after acrimonious exchanges with Goss and his senior staffers, most of them former top aides on the House Intelligence Committee who had been sharply critical of the directorate of operations and had pledged an overhaul.

At the time, Goss' supporters said he was trying to shake up an agency badly in need of reform after the intelligence failures leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks and the war in Iraq.

The departures prompted fierce criticism of Goss, who was accused of driving off talented and respected officers over petty personnel disagreements. Kappes and Sulick left largely because they objected to the way one of their colleagues had been treated by a Goss aide.

Goss was later pushed out as CIA chief, succeeded by Hayden. During his confirmation hearings, Hayden pledged to restore morale.

Sulick, 59, served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. He speaks Russian, Polish and Spanish.

After more than a decade overseas, he held a number of high-level positions at CIA headquarters, including chief of counter-intelligence.

Hayden said Sulick's priorities would include developing "innovative operational platforms" and covers -- the elaborate false identities that CIA case officers use to disguise their intelligence-gathering activities in other countries.

The CIA is under pressure to move its officers out of U.S. embassies, where they pose as diplomats, and into commercial covers that might put them in better position to track terrorist groups and weapons proliferation networks.

As a Cold War case officer, Sulick did not serve in the Middle East or Southeast Asia, posts that are hot spots today. But intelligence officials said that Sulick's deputy -- who remains undercover -- served extensively in the Middle East.

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greg.miller@latimes.com

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