Wink and a Nod

Thursday - 4/15/2010, 10:07am EDT

JJ Green, National Security Correspondent

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On Wednesday Apr 14 at exactly 10:29:38am, an email popped into my in box. It was sent to inform me that Steve Kappas was leaving the Central Intelligence Agency as its Deputy Director. This was a shocker, but not so much as it would've been had I not had a conversation about it a couple of weeks ago.

A friend mentioned to me that rumors about his future had come up as the revolving door, that sometimes changes the look of Presidential administrations in a mid-term election year, begins to rotate.

There has always been speculation that he would eventually take over the top job as Director Leon Panetta was thought to only be interested in a "short" stint at the Agency. But that has changed. Informed sources say Panetta, despite an early struggle with the difficult, long hours and rigors of the job has warmed to it and now enjoys it.

Having spoken to Panetta recently at a public, diplomatic function after 7:00pm, it's clear he relishes his role and maybe the long hours.

As far as Kappes goes, his exit squashes the rumor that he was actually the guy behind the scenes, who was pulling the strings. That appears not to be the case.

Kappes joined the CIA in 1981 and held a variety of operational and managerial assignments at CIA Headquarters and overseas, serving as assistant deputy director to former Deputy Director for Operations (DDO) James Pavitt, and later as DDO after Pavitt stepped down in August 2004. At the time of the September 11 attacks, Kappes was the associate deputy director for operations for counterintelligence.

Kappes was station chief in Moscow, New Dehli and Frankfurt and has served in Pakistan. Kappes left the agency during a strange time when the Agency was led by Porter Goss, whose administration alienated a lot of CIA employees. Kappes returned in 2006 as the Deputy Director.

Many in the intelligence community revere him, others who left, not so much.

I've meet him one a few occassions and spoken about matters that relate to U.S. intelligence -- never in the five years I've known him have I had the chance to put anything he's said to me on the record.

Why?

Because even before top White House press advisors decided, as was related to me by a spokesman this week, that "local radio" was not a good use of time for top intelligence officials, Kappes was not talking -- not just to me, but to my knowledge... to anyone.

He just didn't talk to the press. So as he makes his way to the sunset, he leaves a legacy behind him. In a message to employees that I got a hold of, Panetta put it this way:

"Steve has, to put it simply, more than met the highest standards of duty to the nation. He excels at what he does, because he embodies the very best of this outfit: skill and loyalty, dedication and discipline, integrity and candor. He also has, if you know him, one hell of a sense of humor."

I'm banking on all those attributes, including that sense of humor, of which I was a victim (many interview requests were met with "we'll see" and a wink and nod) to return him to a venue when some of the stories he's sealed up can be revealed.