Goss says he would reform CIA

Bush nominee testifies on Hill, denies he's too partisan to lead agency

September 15, 2004|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Rep. Porter J. Goss, President Bush's nominee to take over the CIA, brushed aside suggestions yesterday that he is too much a partisan Republican to lead the agency, saying he would reform intelligence and provide objective advice to the president and Congress.

At an often combative hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Democrats admonished the Florida congressman and former head of the House Intelligence Committee for comments he has made in the past year criticizing Sen. John Kerry and blaming Democrats for intelligence failures.

Goss acknowledged that he might have gone too far in some of those statements.

"At times, perhaps, I've engaged in debate with a little too much vigor or enthusiasm," he said. "Rest assured, however, that I do understand completely the difference in obligations the position of [the director of central intelligence] carries with it and that which the role of congressman carries."

Should the full Senate confirm his nomination, which it is expected to do as soon as next week, Goss, 65, would lead both the CIA and the overall U.S. intelligence community, made up of 15 agencies, at a time when critics say intelligence-gathering is sorely in need of reform.

The 9/11 commission recommended, and Bush has supported, creating a new post overseeing the intelligence agencies and giving the person who occupies it control over their budgets. If the position is created, Goss' power as CIA director would be diminished, though some political observers see Goss as a favorite to assume the new post.

Though Democrats used the hearing to air many grievances, no one has signaled an intention to vote against him.

Goss surprised some senators from both parties when he said he believed it would take longer than the five years that the outgoing CIA director, George J. Tenet, had estimated it would take to hire and deploy all the operatives needed to fight terrorism.

As the hearing progressed, Goss ran into rising frustration from Democrats after he repeatedly said only that "the record is the record" when asked about his partisanship and about whether he is due any blame, as head of the House Intelligence Committee, for the nation's recent intelligence failures.

Senators asked why Goss proposed a bill that some say would give the CIA law enforcement powers over Americans. The Senate committee's senior Democrat, John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, questioned why Goss has not pushed harder for reform as chairman of the House committee and why he has supported bills meant to cut intelligence funding over the years - something Goss has criticized Kerry for.

Goss avoided answering many such questions directly.

"The record is the record," he said at one point, "and I don't believe that it is appropriate in any way, shape or form for me to get involved in anything that could be considered a debate about partisan matters."

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, chastised Goss, saying, "Whoever briefed you for this hearing and said that when you get in a tight spot over something you have said or done, keep repeating, `The record is the record,' did you no great service. That is a dismissive comment that you never should have included, I think, in your comments before this committee."

Despite the criticism, Goss sought to portray himself as open to new ideas and willing to work hard to rebuild the intelligence community after its failure to anticipate the Sept. 11 attacks and its erroneous conclusion that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

"I don't think there's any question about my commitment to reform," Goss said. "I wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't think we were going to have reform in the intelligence community."

Republicans, meanwhile, heaped praise on the congressman, describing him as objective, full of integrity and more than qualified, especially in light of his experience, as a young man, working as a clandestine officer for the CIA.

"We need a strong director of central intelligence with the necessary skills to manage a community which is in dire need of a leader," said the committee chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican. "The unique background of Congressman Goss will serve him well."

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