WASHINGTON – President Bush Tuesday nominated as director of the Central Intelligence Agency Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., a man widely seen as well-qualified but whose selection touched off a firestorm of criticism on political grounds.

Goss, 65, a former Army intelligence officer and CIA clandestine services officer, is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He spent a dozen years with the CIA from the late 1950s to the early 1970s.

“He knows about intelligence, he has lived and breathed it his entire career and he has great faith in it,” said Juliette Kayyem, a Harvard University expert on terrorism and national security who served on the National Commission on Terrorism.

Congressional Democrats pounced on the nomination, saying that with mounting questions about possible pre-Iraq manipulation of intelligence, the independence and integrity of intelligence is critical – and that the president sent the wrong message with the choice of a politician for the post.

“Porter Goss is a good man, but he’s not the man for this job. He’s too political, at a time when we need someone who’s above politics,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which will consider the nomination before a Senate vote. “The president has chosen this debate, which is totally unnecessary.”

Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he has not yet spoken with the ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, but hopes to meet on the nomination within a couple of weeks even if a vote isn’t held until early September, when Congress returns from its summer recess.

Rockefeller promised a fair hearing but said he was disappointed in the choice and warned that Goss would have to answer tough questions about his independence and about his views on reform of the intelligence community.

In his announcement in the Rose Garden at the White House, Bush lavished praise on Goss, calling him “the right man to lead this important agency at this critical moment.”

“Porter Goss is a leader with strong experience in intelligence and in the fight against terrorism,” Bush said. He added that the nominee “knows the CIA inside and out.”

Goss has acquired a reputation as a strong but not overly partisan Republican. He has been critical of Democratic presidential contender John Kerry’s stance on national security, leading to questions about whether how long Goss’ stint in office would be should Kerry beat Bush in November. Responding to the nomination Tuesday, Kerry urged a focus on reorganizing the U.S. intelligence apparatus, and said he hoped Goss shared that view.

A congressional source said Goss has notified House Speaker Dennis Hastert that he wishes to step down from his chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee pending his confirmation hearings.

He has been nominated at a time when the job of the CIA director is likely to change. Traditionally, the CIA director has worn several hats, including running the CIA and serving as the leader of the intelligence community as a whole and advising the president.

But the Sept. 11 commission said in its report that a key contributing factor to the nation’s vulnerability to terrorism was dysfunctional intelligence operations, including a lack of coordination among the 15 agencies and the overburdening of the CIA director. It proposed that a national intelligence director be appointed to oversee all intelligence activities, that a National Counter-terrorism Center be established to improve cooperation among the CIA, FBI and other agencies – and that the director of the CIA focus on his own agency.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Tuesday that rather than fill a job that is in flux, the president should concentrate on pushing the organizational reforms called for by the commission. Pelosi called on House and Senate Republican leaders to reconvene Congress during the summer recess to the changes.

Durbin charged the president was trying to change the topic from restructuring intelligence to Goss’ nomination.

“It’s politically transparent,” Durbin said. “The president wants a confrontation with Congress. He will argue that if we don’t appoint someone, America’s not as safe. And that’ll put Democrats on the defensive.”

Others say the continuing threat of terrorism left Bush no choice but to fill the vacancy left by the departure of George Tenet at the CIA.

“Going through the fall without a CIA director made absolutely no sense,” said James Carafano, military expert at the Heritage Foundation and an adjunct professor at the Naval War College. “A ship without a captain, when we’re heading into a storm, made no sense,” Carafano said. The confirmation hearings will provide a chance for legislators to discuss broader issues of reform with someone who will actually help make those changes, he added.

Carafano said Goss’ political views shouldn’t interfere with his job performance. “I think Porter Goss is perfectly capable of checking his party card at the door,” he said. “Lots of other people have done it. It’s a matter of character.”

Aside from politics, a major question surrounding Goss is whether he would be able and willing to make the changes that most experts – and the Sept. 11 commissioners – say are needed at the CIA.

Supporters cite the respect he has from those who work at the CIA, his recent backing for changes and his exhaustive knowledge of how the intelligence community functions.

“He can hit the ground running,” Roberts said, adding that Goss has been “a champion for the intelligence community, but when they’ve been wrong he’s been very candid.”

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Those who doubt he will be bold say Goss is an insider and a product of the system, that he failed to exercise decisive oversight when questions were raised about the CIA’s Iraq intelligence, and that he has long shown the caution characteristic of many veterans of Congress.

“We need a person in this position who’s not afraid to confront a president of either political party, and I’m afraid he doesn’t have a record of doing this,” Durbin said.

The fairest conclusion that can be drawn at this time, said Brookings Institution military and intelligence expert Michael O’Hanlon, is that it’s unclear whether Goss would use his extensive knowledge to force changes, or whether he would be too meek to risk confrontation.

One key attribute Goss would bring is a knowledge of how Congress works, said Mike Vickers, director of strategic studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and a former special forces officer and CIA operations officer.

At the same time, Vickers said Goss has been cautious, shifting from a strong defender of the CIA to an occasional critic as prevailing views changed in Washington. That raises a question about what type of CIA director he’d be, Vickers said.

“He certainly understands the issues, but will he use this instrument very aggressively overseas for the war we’re in, and will he take the bull by the horns for reforms?”



(c) 2004, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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AP-NY-08-10-04 2023EDT



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