Selection of Goss bodes ill for reforms

August 13, 2004|By Lee S. Strickland

PRESIDENT BUSH'S choice of Florida Rep. Porter J. Goss to head the CIA sounds some critical alarms. His recent record suggests a rash approach to intelligence reform and the very real danger of politicizing the agency.

It is true that Mr. Goss, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, would bring valuable attributes to the position, including an understanding of the clandestine service and the importance of human intelligence operations gained from nine years with the CIA starting in 1962.

But those qualifications are not enough at this critical time when the nation's intelligence services must continue to re-engineer and to rebuild public confidence.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy needed to fix the CIA. Hurt by a failed, none-too-covert invasion of a state that certainly possessed weapons of mass destruction, and faced with a demoralized and widely condemned intelligence agency, the president knew he needed exquisite leadership for the job of director of central intelligence.

In the end, Mr. Kennedy turned to John McCone -- a businessman with no intelligence experience, but maturity, wisdom, judgment and the ability to solve problems. Mr. McCone is now widely recognized as one of the best directors, in part because he introduced careful, measured reforms. Congressman Goss' approach suggests something wholly different.

First, Mr. Goss' highly partisan support for President Bush and his harsh criticism of Sen. John Kerry, including charges of naivete in his understanding of intelligence and foreign relations, raise substantial doubts that the United States will retain the critical historical precedent of nonpoliticized intelligence.

This is not a complaint about his preference for one candidate over the other; rather, it is the assertion that such partisan views have no place in intelligence. The true genius of the National Security Act of 1947 was its vision of the CIA as an independent, academically rigorous body of information professionals trained and able to offer the best analysis -- unbiased and nonpolitical. Politics, even the appearance of politics, is anathema to the very concept of U.S. intelligence.

Some agency insiders have complained of political interference in the months preceding the war in Iraq. Less politics, not more, is what the intelligence community needs.

Second, Mr. Goss, in his committee's report on the fiscal 2005 Intelligence Authorization Act, has broadly alleged that the CIA's Directorates of Operations and Intelligence are "dysfunctional" -- overly focused on counterterrorism, overly supportive of the military effort in Iraq and overly fond of avoiding risk in their analytical efforts.

This is balderdash.

U.S. intelligence, working with allies, has dramatically improved homeland security in the last three years, as evidenced by the fact that about two-thirds of the al-Qaida leadership, including the mastermind of the 9/11 attack, have been taken into custody or eliminated. And operations personnel, analysts and information technology experts are rolling up more threats every day.

Moreover, by eschewing the more balanced and precise approach of the 9/11 commission to institutional shortcomings, his report signaled a rashness that could have quite harmful consequences for the effectiveness of the CIA.

Yes, improvements are needed throughout the intelligence community, but much has been done in the last three years, and more corrections and new capabilities will come. Focused improvements will address the revitalization of the intelligence warning process, the continued reinvestment in human operations, the need throughout the government for professional intelligence analysis that is the linchpin of homeland security, and the re-engineering of the information infrastructure that today inhibits effective information sharing.

Generalized, politically motivated charges of dysfunction and incompetence are not effective improvement approaches. If U.S. intelligence is to ensure the preservation of our society -- as it has since the days of Gen. George Washington -- then it must be guided by prescient judgments that understand the role and limitations of intelligence, seek to improve intelligence with surgical precision and avoid even the appearance of political machinations.

Lee S. Strickland, a professor and director of the Center for Information Policy at the University of Maryland, College Park, is a retired career officer of the CIA's Senior Intelligence Service.

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