CIA Moving Domestic Headquarters to Denver

CIA Director Porter Goss is planning to move the Agency’s domestic operations to Denver next year in order to break up its “group-think” mentality.

CIA Plans to Shift Work to Denver (WaPo, A21)

The CIA has plans to relocate the headquarters of its domestic division, which is responsible for operations and recruitment in the United States, from the CIA’s Langley headquarters to Denver, a move designed to promote innovation, according to U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials. About $20 million has been tentatively budgeted to relocate employees of the CIA’s National Resources Division, officials said. A U.S. intelligence official said the planned move, confirmed by three other government officials, was being undertaken “for operational reasons.”

A CIA spokesman declined to comment. Other current and former intelligence officials said the Denver relocation reflects the desire of CIA Director Porter J. Goss to develop new ways to operate under cover, including setting up more front corporations and working closer with established international firms. Associates of Goss said yesterday that the move was also in keeping with his desire to stop the growth of CIA headquarters and headquarters-based group-think, something he criticized frequently when he was chairman of the House intelligence committee. Other CIA veterans said such a relocation would make no sense, given Denver’s relative distance from major corporate centers. “Why would you go so far away?” one asked. “They will get disconnected.”

The main function of the domestic division, which has stations in many major U.S. cities, is to conduct voluntary debriefings of U.S. citizens who travel overseas for work or to visit relatives, and to recruit foreign students, diplomats and businesspeople to become CIA assets when they return to their countries. It was unclear how many CIA employees would relocate to Denver under the plan. Although collecting information on U.S. citizens under suspicion for terrorist links is primarily an FBI function, the CIA may also collect information on citizens under limited circumstances, according to a 1981 executive order. The exact guidelines for those operations are spelled out in a classified document signed by the CIA director and approved by the attorney general. The Denver move, which is tentatively scheduled for next year but has not been finalized, coincides with several other developments related to the CIA’s domestic intelligence work.

Last week, the CIA and FBI agreed to a new “memorandum of understanding” on domestic and foreign operations, the first change in decades. The negotiations surrounding the memo were highly contentious, with the FBI saying that it should control and approve the CIA’s domestic activities, including its pool of U.S.-based assets that have been invaluable in the past to understanding the intentions of foreign nations and groups. But the FBI is having significant problems developing its own domestic intelligence branch and the CIA is generally viewed across the intelligence community as more experienced and skilled at handling foreign informants who eventually return abroad, where the CIA has the lead in intelligence gathering and operations.

Given that this is a year away and that there is strong bureaucratic opposition, I would not be the least bit surprised to see Congress intervene to prevent it. The howls of protest from the bureaucrats, though, are amusing. There is a natural instinct in all bureacracies to want to be as close to the flagpole as possible, for fear that out of sight equals out of mind.

That the entirety of the federal government is centered in a relatively tiny geographic area, let alone an incredibly expensive one to live in and without anywhere near the transportation infrastructure to support it properly, has never made much sense. It is simply foolish in the aftermath of 9/11. Bureaucracy continues to trump logic, however, as demonstrated by the location of the Department of Homeland Security smack in the middle of the District rather than in the Northern Virginia hinterlands or, even better, out west somewhere where the land is cheap. The idea that one can’t conduct investigations out of Denver just as easily as Langley in the era of fax machines and videoconferencing is just silly.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    One would think that in these days of telecommuting, such a move wouldn’t be so difficult to conceive. It’s not like they gain a great benefit by being located so close to Washington if they’re trying to recruit people who don’t work in government.

  2. Jem says:

    I found the quote from “Other CIA veterans” who believe that “such a relocation would make no sense, given Denver’s relative distance from major corporate centers.” says a lot more about their relative competence than they intended.

    Having grown up near Denver, I can say confidently that the area IS a major corporate center, and has been for years (moreso, in all likelihood, than Washington DC, for that matter). If the CIA wants to use corporate ties as a means to infiltrate agents, you DO NOT want them leaving from and returning to Washington DC–any mimimally competent foreign service will place additional scrutiny on someone whose “home office” is within spitting distance of the Beltway than they will on someone from Omaha, St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver, Colorado Springs, or Salt Lake City.

    And some people wonder why the CIA is taking a beating over its performance…sheesh!

  3. James Durbin says:

    I think it’s a fantastic idea. And while they’re at it – wouldn’t it be a good idea to split Washingon up too? I’m thinking that putting a big chunk of the federal bureaucracy in Missouri, maybe out by Columbia, would be good for the country.

    It would reduce the terrorist threat of wiping out the entire government, improve the housing situation in D.C., and my little brother would be sure to get a job when he graduates from Mizzou.

  4. John Burgess says:

    I think a strong case could be made for most federal agencies to move the majority of their staffs outside the beltway. Each could keep a small–200 person–headquarters in DC to handle Congress and Executive links. But most of the grunt work can be accomplished in Peoria as well as Pentagon City. Why isn’t the bulk of Agriculture in Iowa or Kansas? Why couldn’t Commerce work as well out of New Orleans?

    HHS? GAO? FCC? DOE? Absolutely no reason they couldn’t be impressing people in the heartland with how hard they work, rather than taking flack for their simple geographic location. Other than State–which has no real consitutents-and DOD–which has alert constituents in 50 states–they should all decentralize.

    The last time the CIA yipped at having part of their offices relocated to WV, they had to go around telling people they couldn’t move. WV offered lower cost of living and housing, decent schools, and a much better lifestyle. But so many wanted to go they had to put on the brakes.

  5. kappiy says:

    They should move the CIA back to the REAL capital of America: Richmond. Its about time we offer reparations for the War of Northern Aggression!