Archive for Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Bush’s pick to lead CIA has insider’s knowledge

August 11, 2004


— Porter Goss, nominated Tuesday to head the Central Intelligence Agency, brings a unique skill set to the job: He's been both an operative and overseer.

As an intelligence officer in the 1960s, Goss reportedly served in Europe and Latin America, although his work remains classified. More recently, as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Goss has been a strong backer of the intelligence community.

Supporters say Goss, a Republican representative from Florida, will be able to quickly grasp both the CIA's classified internal organization and the challenges facing U.S. intelligence officers abroad.

"He's a man who brings a vast amount of intelligence experience to the table," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who served previously with Goss on the House Intelligence Committee. "Porter knows all the players from all the nations right now. He can pick up the phone and call the head of the criminal intelligence division of Egypt, Germany or wherever and have a trusting relationship with those people."

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, praised Goss as "a most able, experienced and conscientious member of Congress with unique experience and expertise in national security and intelligence issues."

"He knows the agency inside and out," President Bush said during a brief appearance with Goss in the White House Rose Garden. "He knows the agency, and he knows what is needed to strengthen it."

Good, but wrong?

But others question whether Goss, who left the CIA in the early 1970s and has served in Congress since 1989, is the right choice for the job, especially when the government's intelligence agencies are facing a massive overhaul.

"I think he's a good man, but I think he's the wrong man for the job," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., another member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "I don't believe we should have anyone in this position, Democrat or Republican, who is an elected official."

Though his CIA past is often prominently mentioned, Goss has more experience in public life than in clandestine work.

Goss grew up in Waterbury, Conn., attended Hotchkiss boarding school and then Yale University, graduating in 1960. While at Yale, he enrolled in the U.S. Army ROTC program and was persuaded by a CIA recruiter to join the agency. Goss never has talked much about his service as an operations officer in the field, although in one news report he suggested he was involved in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Around 1970 his spying career was cut short by blood poisoning contracted overseas that led to heart and kidney infections.

From spy to politician

In 1971 after he resigned, he moved to Sanibel Island on Florida's west coast, starting a newspaper and eventually becoming mayor of the city of Sanibel. Later he was appointed to the county commission by Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., who was then the governor. In 1989, Goss won a congressional seat and began his Washington career.

Eight years later, decades after he left the CIA, Goss found himself as the powerful chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, overseeing the activities of his old employer.

Some question whether that experience qualifies him to run the CIA. The bipartisan Sept. 11 commission, which issued its findings last month, said committees likes the one run by Goss "did not systematically perform robust oversight" of the CIA and other agencies.

The selection of Goss, an influential member of Congress, suggests that Bush's plans for an intelligence community makeover will feature a leading role for the CIA.

If confirmed quickly, Goss would undoubtedly have a say over any suggested reforms and the pace of those changes. While Democrats, including presidential nominee John Kerry, have urged speedy legislation, Goss has said that moving too quickly would "wreak havoc" on the intelligence agencies.

Detachment at issue

Either way, Goss' nomination has added a complication to the uncertainty in Congress over how to improve U.S. intelligence gathering and whether a CIA director culled from Capitol Hill is the person to do it.

"It's a position for which he has no excuse for not understanding a lot of the intelligence," said William Odom, a former director of the National Security Agency. "If it has a drawback, it would strike me that it's convincing Democrats and some in the administration that he's going to be an independent-minded and detached and not a political purveyor of intelligence."

As House Intelligence Committee chairman, Goss has adopted a deliberative style. But some Democrats contend Goss has sided too often with the administration when questions of the use of intelligence have been raised.

His committee, they argue, has dragged its feet on its own investigation of intelligence problems linked to Sept. 11; while the Senate Intelligence Committee has already issued a report on faulty intelligence, the House panel has yet to do so.

Goss' critics also note that he declined Democratic requests to conduct a committee inquiry into the alleged abuse of Iraqi detainees by U.S. Army guards at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

Just last week, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, accused Goss of stalling legislation introduced several months ago that suggested many of the same intelligence reforms suggested by the Sept. 11 commission.

But Goss has at times been critical of the CIA. In September 2003 he and Harman sent a letter to then-CIA Director George Tenet suggesting that the Bush administration had relied on dated, and perhaps inaccurate, intelligence when it argued that Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and its ties to al-Qaida were justification for military action.

Now Goss may soon be defending the CIA from attacks by congressional committees.

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