Until a few weeks ago, Patrick Murray was just another ambitious Capitol Hill staffer. As a top aide to Rep. Porter Goss, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, Murray had a reputation as a sharp-tongued partisan lawyer. When Democrats on the committee asked the CIA for information, Murray would cut them off, reminding the agency that only requests backed by the Republican majority should be honored. "He was just impossible," says one staffer who dealt with him. "He was sarcastic, snide and had this uncanny ability to push people's buttons." One former CIA official told NEWSWEEK that Murray leaned on him more than once to declassify information so he could use it to "embarrass the Democrats." Murray was irritated when the agency declined. He regarded much of the CIA as a nest of obstructionist bureaucrats, time-servers who had schemed to undermine the administration's policies--especially in Iraq.

Now Murray is in a position to do something about it. When President George W. Bush appointed Goss as the new CIA director, the congressman brought along several trusted aides, including Murray. He also brought orders from the White House to overhaul the agency, which has yet to recover from a devastating series of 9/11 and Iraq intelligence failures. Goss was expected to break some furniture and hand out some pink slips. Even Bush's harshest critics agree that the hidebound intelligence agency is long overdue for a shake-up (late last week Congress failed to agree on a major intel overhaul). But so far the new team's aggressive--some say clumsy--efforts at cleaning house may have only thrown the spy agency into deeper turmoil. Several top officials have quit in anger, leaving key management positions unfilled at a critical time and prompting fears of a brain drain of experienced employees.

The hostilities began last month, when Goss tried to install a former CIA analyst named Michael Kostiw as the agency's executive director, the No. 3 spot. Someone--likely a CIA official who opposed Kostiw's appointment--leaked an embarrassing tidbit to The Washington Post: years earlier Kostiw had been accused of shoplifting. It was enough to derail Kostiw's appointment. The sabotage infuriated Murray, who stormed into the office of the CIA's chief of counterintelligence, a respected undercover official known as "Mary." According to two people familiar with the encounter, Murray told her the leaks had to stop, and put her in charge of making sure they did. If there were any more damaging leaks about future Goss appointments, Murray warned her, "I am going to hold you personally responsible." Mary's boss, Michael Sulick, and Sulick's boss, Stephen Kappes, confronted Murray. "Look, don't treat us like we're Democratic staffers on the Hill," Sulick told Murray, according to a source familiar with the meeting. Murray responded by ordering Kappes to fire Sulick. Kappes refused. Instead, both Sulick and Kappes resigned last week. The men received a five-minute standing ovation from CIA employees. Goss and Murray declined to comment, but people close to them say there are others at the agency who should fear for their jobs.

Goss has carefully distanced himself from the turmoil on the ground. Last week he tried to smooth the hurt feelings in an e-mail to agency employees. "We provide the intelligence as we see it and let the facts alone speak to the policymakers," he wrote. But another line in the e-mail made headlines and only increased the antagonism. "We support the administration and its policies in our work," it said.

Goss's supporters insist he was merely stating the obvious: the CIA does, after all, exist to serve the president. But critics seized on the language as proof of their suspicions: that Goss is a Bush loyalist who will bend the agency to meet the president's political agenda. Don't expect Murray, a man on a mission, to spend much time trying to prove them wrong.