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Archive for Saturday, November 6, 2004

Intelligence in flux in 2nd term

November 6, 2004

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— President Bush's election victory means job security for someone else: CIA Director Porter Goss.

A loyal Republican congressman from Florida, Goss was Bush's last major nomination before the election. Goss, 65, took over the Central Intelligence Agency in late September, with the knowledge that he could be out of work if Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry won.

Now, Goss can get settled, filling key positions and leaving other marks on the CIA.

But he still faces uncertainty. Goss may have a new job -- national intelligence director -- if Congress agrees to create the position soon. Some Democrats, however, are worried that the momentum for such a change may wane now that the election has passed.

Goss has taken over an agency under fire. Former Director George Tenet resigned in July amid a series of critical reports and books, including the 9-11 commission's best-selling report on the attack and the Senate's inquiry into the Iraq intelligence. Tenet cited personal reasons.

During Goss' Senate confirmation hearings, some questioned whether he would do enough to reshape the agency. On his first day as director, he told CIA employees that he wanted to further expand the CIA's clandestine service, put a premium on improving language capabilities and encourage intelligence analysts and operatives to take calculated risks.

Goss also wants to get back to the fundamentals of intelligence work by better penetrating groups and governments. He said that means spending more time in their jobs -- what Goss calls "time on target" -- so that agency officials can develop more expertise to better understand who or what they are going after.

Democrats were initially concerned that Goss' Republican credentials would influence his decisions at the agency, which by tradition avoids getting involved in policy-making.

Alarm bells went off when he hired into senior positions four Republican staff members from the House Intelligence Committee, which he led for nearly eight years ending in August. However, one Democratic aide on Capitol Hill, speaking Wednesday on condition of anonymity, said Goss so far had tried to signal that he intended to lead the CIA impartially and independently.

There is also concern inside the agency that Goss may make sweeping personnel changes, possibly involving dozens of firings. But some current and former officials see that as unfounded.

Former counterterrorism chief Vince Cannistraro said Goss should be expected to bring in some of his own people, as any director would.

But "I think that Porter is a cautious type of person," Cannistraro said. "I don't think he is going to have wholesale purges of the place."

Even as Goss puts his print on the CIA's headquarters, he could soon land in a newly created job serving as the nation's first national intelligence director.

Congress was unable to approve legislation to shape that position and other changes before the election. House and Senate negotiators are expected to continue working in what's left of the year.

A House-passed version of the bill writes into law that the CIA director would get the new intelligence position. Even without that provision, Bush may offer Goss the job.

But advocates for reform legislation -- including one leading negotiator, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif. -- have expressed concern that the bill's momentum will slacken without the pressure of the election.

The Democratic aide said another worry was that there would be less of a mandate from the White House, which in the past has supported the new intelligence director over Pentagon objections.

The question is: "Are we really going to get intelligence reform done on the level we were working toward?" the aide said.

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