Goss confirmed as head of a CIA facing overhaul

Senate's 77-17 vote puts Fla. Republican at center of U.S. intelligence efforts

September 23, 2004|By Tamara Lytle and Gwyneth K. Shaw | Tamara Lytle and Gwyneth K. Shaw,ORLANDO SENTINEL

WASHINGTON - The Senate confirmed Rep. Porter J. Goss yesterday as the nation's new CIA director, a daunting role that places the Florida Republican in the middle of a historic effort to improve America's intelligence community.

Lawmakers are eager to craft legislation to retool the nation's spying network after a series of highly critical reports focusing on the CIA's mistakes during the past several years.

That effort, a flash point in the fall presidential campaign, will test Goss' leadership skills as well as his understanding of policy.

Seventy-seven senators voted to give Goss the job, while 17 Democrats voted against him amid criticism that he was too partisan to exercise the objectivity needed in such a demanding position.

But now that Goss has made it through the confirmation process, he faces a much tougher phase.

He replaces George J. Tenet, who quit in the wake of growing criticism over faulty intelligence about whether Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction.

"It's probably one of the most difficult jobs in this town right now," said Washington attorney Eleanor Hill, who served as staff director for the joint inquiry into the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, headed by Goss and Sen. Bob Graham, a Democrat from Florida.

"You have an intelligence community that's been through several incidents that hurt their credibility. You've got to bring together a community that is very fragmented. And you have to do it at a time of tremendous threat to this country," she said.

In his new job, Goss faces the continuing challenge of the situation in Iraq, as well as the growing threat that Iran and North Korea are developing nuclear weapons programs.

There's almost unanimous agreement in Washington that the Central Intelligence Agency and other spying operations throughout the government need strengthening, especially in the area of human intelligence.

And Congress is considering a total overhaul of the intelligence community's structure as a way to improve communications and make the diverse agencies more accountable. President Bush has proposed creating a national intelligence director, and lawmakers are fighting over how much power that person would exercise over the budgets and decisions of the intelligence agencies.

Goss, a former CIA agent, likely would be considered for that position if it is created this fall. In the meantime, as director of central intelligence, he will be the top-ranking person in the spy community and the funnel through which most intelligence flows to Bush.

That could prove to be the toughest part of Goss's new job, said Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington.

After a speech before the United Nations on Tuesday, Bush dismissed a recent - and gloomy - CIA intelligence assessment about the situation in Iraq as "just guessing" at what might happen there.

Carpenter said Goss, or any intelligence director, needs to be able to give a president bad news - never an easy thing, and Iraq will probably be at the top of the list.

During yesterday's Senate debate over Goss's nomination, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg questioned whether he could meet that challenge.

"At a time when the independence and the objectivity of the CIA is more crucial than ever before, President Bush has nominated a politician who has been particularly partisan," the New Jersey Democrat said.

But Graham said his experience as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee led him to believe Goss is uniquely qualified for the post. Goss served in the same capacity as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and the two men co-chaired a joint investigation into the intelligence failures leading to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"I am confident that Porter Goss will not be part of the problem but will be a leader in taking us toward principled and effective solutions which will make America safer," Graham said.

During 6 1/2 hours of confirmation hearings over two days, Goss spoke bluntly about many of those challenges. Improving the CIA's use of spies to infiltrate organizations such al-Qaida and other enemies of the United States will take longer than the five years that Tenet had suggested, he said.

Goss said the intelligence community's analyses also need improvement so decision-makers have reliable information.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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