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Sulick Named as CIA's New Clandestine Chief


At the CIA, a career spy is being welcomed back into the fold. Michael Sulick has just been named head of the Clandestine Service. That means he's about to become, in effect, the nation's most senior spy. It's not a turn of events, you might have predicted nearly three years ago, when Sulick walked out of the agency in an unusually public dispute.

NPR's intelligence correspondent Mary Louise Kelly joins us. And Mary Louise, First, why don't you tell us a bit more about who Michael Sulick is?


MARY LOUISE KELLY: Well, Michael Sulick is an old-school spies' spy. He's 59 years old. He has spent most of his career at the CIA and all over the world. He cut his teeth in Asia and Latin America. He then rose to become a CIA station chief in Russia and Poland. He eventually became the chief of counterintelligence for the entire CIA. And finally, he ended up with the number two job, the deputy director of the Clandestine Service. And by that, the Clandestine Service, I mean, the CIA's spies, as opposed to - there are thousands of other people who work there, who are analysts or linguists or technical experts.

But among the spies, he was the number-two guy. He got that job back in August 2004, but he only did it for three months. And he left the CIA, walked out in November of 2004.

BLOCK: And what was going on at that time?

KELLY: Well, this was the time when - you may remember the headlines were that the CIA was an agency in freefall. It was in turmoil. What had happened was Porter Goss, a congressman, had come in. He was the new director. And there were almost immediately clashes between Goss' staff and the CIA old guard, particularly the old guard within the Clandestine Service.

And Mike Sulick and his then-boss, a man named Steve Kappes, got into a huge dispute with Porter Goss' chief of staff. This was more personality clash than any huge dispute about substance or the way forward for the CIA, but nonetheless, it was significant. They walked out. They were highly respected, both of them. And it was seen as opening the floodgates.


A lot of other people in the Clandestine Service looked around and said, well, if Sulick and Kappes are out of here, so am I. And we've seen many senior, high-level departures follow after that.

So, you know, that gives you a little bit of perspective on how big a news announcement this was at Langley today, at CIA headquarters, to hear Mike Sulick is coming back. And we should note, he's once again going to be working with Steve Kappes, his erstwhile boss who had already returned and is now the deputy director of the entire CIA.

BLOCK: So the old guard is new again. Mary Louise, aren't there going to be concerns, though, if Michael Sulick is part of this group that was disbanded, in a sense? And a lot of people want this agency to reform itself on a whole new generation of leadership.

KELLY: Right. And it's - instead, the old leaders coming back. You know, it's interesting. I think we may hear some questions along those lines from members of Congress. But I remember back in these days in 2004, when it was so heated -and there was a sense among almost every one you talked to within the agency and outside - White House, on the Hill, etcetera - that Mike Sulick and his boss then, Steve Kappes, were the future of the CIA. They had both just come into their posts. They were seen as the guys who were going to fix the CIA, not the people who needed fixing.

One intelligence official I spoke to today, who asked not to be quoted by name because he didn't want to sound too critical publicly of his old boss, Porter Goss. But he said the sense at Langley today is Mike Sulick should never have left. He shouldn't have had to leave. It was poorly handled. And he is now picking up a career that should not have been interrupted and carrying on as he should have been able to three years ago.

BLOCK: So it sounds like a pretty happy day out there at CIA headquarters.

KELLY: It does. I've been calling around the network. And e-mails are flying around the network of veteran CIA officers out there to get a sense of how this is playing. And delight is the word I keep hearing. They're very happy to have Mike Sulick back.

BLOCK: And briefly, Mary Louise, just tell us a bit about how the job has changed since Michael Sulick was last at the CIA.

KELLY: Well, he'll be heading what's now called the National Clandestine Service, and that's new. It's essentially the old Clandestine Service renamed. But we've had a lot of significant intelligence reforms since he was there. And he is now in charge of coordinating all overseas spying activities. So that's the CIA, but also the FBI's national security branch, Pentagon teams. His job will be getting all of those guys to work together, not across purposes.

BLOCK: Okay, Mary Louise, thanks very much.

KELLY: You're welcome.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.