Bush chooses Rep. Goss for CIA director

President nominates Fla. Republican who was undercover agent

Democrats say move is partisan

9/11 panel's call for post in White House unsettled

August 11, 2004|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush nominated Porter J. Goss, a seven-term Republican congressman from Florida and former undercover CIA agent, as the next director of central intelligence yesterday, filling a crucial vacancy atop the nation's beleaguered spy community at a time of heightened terror alerts.

The choice of Goss, 65, immediately drew criticism from some congressional Democrats as a partisan move that risked mixing intelligence and politics.

He was expected to undergo tough grilling during Senate confirmation hearings about his and Bush's willingness to reform the intelligence agencies, but there were few signs that Democrats would mount a strong effort to block the appointment.

Bush described Goss, who has chaired the House committee that oversees intelligence for eight years but is not running for re-election, as someone who "knows the CIA inside and out."

"He's the right man to lead and support the agency at this critical moment in our nation's history," Bush said in a brief appearance at the White House before setting out on a campaign trip to Goss' home state, a key election-year battleground.

He offered the job to Goss over dinner Monday night.

Goss would replace George J. Tenet, who stepped down July 11. Since then, the post has been filled by an acting director, John McLaughlin.

"I think every American knows the importance of getting the best possible intelligence we can get to our decision-makers," said Goss, who joined the president for the Rose Garden announcement.

The nomination comes against the backdrop of a nine-day-old heightened terror alert announced by the Bush administration for the financial sector in New York, northern New Jersey and all of Washington.

The administration based the alert on new intelligence showing detailed al-Qaida surveillance of key financial institutions, much of it dating from 2000 and 2001.

The alert has allowed the White House to focus public attention on terrorism and the administration's efforts to combat it, including what it says is improved intelligence-gathering and cooperation with allies.

The director of central intelligence currently fills three roles: He is the president's chief intelligence briefer, runs the Central Intelligence Agency and oversees 14 other intelligence organizations, including the Maryland-based National Security Agency.

The third role is circumscribed by a lack of control over budgets and hiring, which fall largely under Pentagon authority.

Democrats, including presidential nominee John Kerry, are pushing for creation of the post of national intelligence director inside the White House, who would control budgets and be able to hire and fire the heads of other agencies.

Sweeping change

This plan, endorsed by the bipartisan commission that investigated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, could result in the most sweeping change in the nation's intelligence apparatus since the CIA was created in 1947.

Bush has endorsed a more limited change. He backs creation of a national intelligence director's post but refused to put the job within the White House and has not said whether the director should have full budget control.

His spokesman, Scott McClellan, refused to say yesterday whether Goss would be tapped for the new post if and when it is created by Congress.

U.S. intelligence agencies have recently come under heavy bipartisan criticism for failing to predict the Sept. 11 attacks and for producing, without careful scrutiny or hard evidence, reports that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

The president used the intelligence community's reports on banned weapons as his main justification for going to war to topple Saddam Hussein. In the 17 months since, no such weapons have been found.

Congress, including the intelligence panel that Goss heads, came in for a share of criticism from the Sept. 11 panel, which said lawmakers responded slowly to the threat of international terrorism and "did not systematically perform robust oversight to identify, address and attempt to resolve" the many problems that became clear after the attacks.

CIA employment

The Yale-educated Goss, a CIA officer during the 1960s in Central America and Western Europe, left the agency because of illness. He has a reputation as a defender of the intelligence community and a strong proponent of expanding its human spy network, faulting Democrats in past administrations and on Capitol Hill for allowing that network to shrink.

Resisting election-year pressure from Democrats on his own panel for a swift overhaul of intelligence agencies, he has adopted a go-slow approach, with just one hearing a week.

"Others are moving forward, Mr. Chairman, but this committee appears to be moving in reverse," his committee's Democratic vice chairman, Rep. Jane Harman of California, protested last week.

Democrats signaled almost in unison yesterday that they would condition their support for Goss on whether he backs changes along the lines recommended by the Sept. 11 panel.

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