Bush Defers Decision on CIA Chief
The White House has put off for now a decision on whether to name a new CIA director before the November election, as officials continue to search for a candidate they believe could do the job and survive Senate confirmation during a heated campaign, according to senior administration and congressional officials.
The early White House favorite, Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), a former CIA case officer who is chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was expected by administration officials to breeze through confirmation because of his position on Capitol Hill. That view dissolved after senior Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, including the panel’s vice chairman, John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), said they considered Goss too partisan. With the CIA under attack for faulty intelligence on Iraq and lawmakers in both parties pushing for reform of the intelligence community, the Democrats threatened to turn a confirmation hearing for Goss or any other nominee they consider too partisan into a review of the Bush administration’s prewar case for ousting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Other names offered by administration officials have included Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage; former senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.); former ambassador Thomas R. Pickering; Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, director of the National Security Agency; John J. Hamre, deputy defense secretary in the Clinton administration and now president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean (R), now co-chairman of the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Bush’s deputy national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, has also been mentioned in news reports, as has former Navy secretary John F. Lehman, although a White House official said last week Lehman was not under consideration. Nunn and Pickering have said they are not interested. Armitage, a close friend of Tenet, has told friends he wants to leave government this year. Pickering, a former senior ambassador, said in an interview that it would be a bad idea to name a director before the Nov. 2 election, given the campaign-year battle over intelligence failures.
“I could not think of a worse time” for a new director to try to take over the CIA, Pickering said. “The politics are terrible,” and to survive the nominee “ought to have a solid background” within the agency and “ideas of how to reorganize it.”
Unfortunately, the acrimony that has characterized most Supreme Court confirmation hearings since the appointment of Robert Bork in 1986 is starting to creep into other areas. By any traditional standard, any of the men listed in the excerpt above would have sailed through confirmation in the past. The idea that Goss is “too partisan” to be DCI is simply silly.
The price we’re paying for this is high. Men like Nunn and Armitage would have jumped at the job in years past, simply because of the challenge and the critical need for a strong DCI. But it’s hardly worth the huge sacrifices in today’s environment. The result is that we’re likely going to have McLaughlin as acting DCI at least through the election–and through January if Kerry is elected. By all accounts, he’s perfectly capable of doing the job and is well respected in the intelligence community. But he’s hampered by his lame duck status.
That said, it makes little sense to appoint a new DCI until his role is clarified.
The final report of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks will recommend the creation of a cabinet-level post to oversee the nation’s intelligence agencies, a position that would take power away from the C.I.A., the F.B.I., the National Security Council, the Pentagon and other agencies that face blistering criticism from the panel, government officials who have seen the report said. They said that the creation of the post of a national intelligence director would be the most important of the recommendations in the long-awaited report, which is due out next week.
The proposal is likely to face especially fierce opposition from the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency, which would both have to cede significant authority over the government’s estimated $40 billion annual intelligence budget and other policy matters. The White House, however, has suggested in recent weeks that it is willing to consider an overhaul of the intelligence community.
Under the commission’s proposal, one official said, the director of central intelligence, who is now responsible for running the C.I.A. and for nominal oversight of other intelligence agencies, would be expected to lose much of that oversight role and would report to the White House through the new national intelligence director.
Meanwhile, Kerry has a plan of his own.
John Kerry said Friday that if elected president he would more than double the number of American agents overseas, link the various intelligence agencies at every level and under one national intelligence director, and ensure that dissenting views could rise from the ranks so the nation did not go to war because of bad information. . . . Mr. Kerry’s call for doubling the spending on clandestine officers overseas goes far beyond the expansion that George J. Tenet, the former director of central intelligence, said was his highest priority. “It’s long overdue,” Mr. Kerry said, and would “strengthen our credibility overseas” in fighting terrorism. . . . Mr. Kerry’s call for a far bigger increase would doubtless cheer some in the intelligence community, though some members of Congress, noting its recent failures, have suggested that the spy agency needs to get better before it gets bigger.
Mr. Kerry’s proposal for a cabinet-level director of national intelligence, with a 10-year term, like that of the F.B.I. director, would probably receive a cooler reception at the C.I.A. The new officer would have control over budgets and personnel at the C.I.A., the National Security Administration, the Defense Intelligence Agency and a number of other spy agencies. But installing a new layer above the C.I.A. director would severely limit his power, and is strongly opposed within the agency.
Regarding the F.B.I., Mr. Kerry broke with his running mate, Senator John Edwards, who in the Democratic primaries embraced a proposal to create a separate domestic intelligence agency, outside of the F.B.I. and without its law-enforcement functions, using the model of the British service MI-5. Mr. Kerry said he backed an alternative idea to create an “agency within an agency” at the F.B.I. Proponents of this idea argue that the F.B.I. would resist the creation of a separate new agency and that setting up from scratch would take too long. They also argue that F.B.I. agents are typically rewarded and promoted primarily for making arrests, rather than for gathering intelligence. Mr. Kerry said he would make a separate career track for agents working in domestic intelligence or counterintelligence.
If the panel’s recommendation makes it into law–again, a decision that could be defered until after the election (if Bush wins) or late January (if Kerry does)–the nomination process gets more complicated. No high profile person would want the CIA job if he’s going to be subordinate to the new overseer. Indeed, the CIA head would almost certainly then become something that always went to a career intelligence professional, with the intelligence czar job going to a more traditional political appointee.
Update (1706): See also AP – 9/11 Panel to Seek New Cabinet Intel Post