Goss Has No Chance of Heading CIA
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, yesterday dismissed the chances of Rep. Porter GossÃ¢€™s (R-Fla.) becoming director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Goss, a former CIA case officer and chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, had been named by senior administration officials as the front-runner for the job vacated by former CIA director George Tenet, who resigned Sunday.
GossÃ¢€™s candidacy has foundered because of opposition from Senate and House Democrats who believe he is too partisan to run the CIA. The agency is at the center of the political battle over whether the invasion of Iraq was justified.
Ã¢€œPorter Goss? That trial balloon went up, and Sen. [John] Rockefeller [D-W.Va.] got out his BB gun and popped it out of the sky,Ã¢€ said Roberts in a wide-ranging interview in his Hart Building office, referring to his committeeÃ¢€™s ranking member. Ã¢€œWe do not want a partisan fight right before the election,Ã¢€ Roberts said. Ã¢€œ[Rockefeller] said he was too partisan and not acceptable,Ã¢€ Roberts said. Ã¢€œI donÃ¢€™t think Porter is too partisan or that he is unacceptable, but that doesnÃ¢€™t speak for the other side. Apparently, if you have the vice chairman firmly opposed to the nominee, I donÃ¢€™t think thatÃ¢€™s a very good starting point.Ã¢€ Roberts declined to promote a successor to Tenet. Ã¢€œThe doorÃ¢€™s wide open; thatÃ¢€™s their pick,Ã¢€ Roberts said, referring to the Bush administration. Ã¢€œMy only message to the White House is if they do this, make it an extraordinary person that will get bipartisan support. My criterion for it is that the intelligence director should be someone who has a lot of information-management experience because thatÃ¢€™s what itÃ¢€™s all about.Ã¢€
At the end of last month, Rockefeller issued a public statement warning the president not to nominate a CIA director whom Democrats would view as partisan. Ã¢€œWe need a director that is not only knowledgeable and capable but unquestionably independent,Ã¢€ said Rockefeller. Ã¢€œI strongly urge the President to look for an individual with unimpeachable, nonpartisan national-security credentials and the stature and independence to bring about much-needed reform of our intelligence agencies.Ã¢€ Key Democrats in the House also oppose GossÃ¢€™s possible nomination to the CIA. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), formerly the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence panel, recently blasted Goss as too partisan. She and other key Democrats were furious that during a floor debate last month Goss displayed a poster on the House floor criticizing Sen. John Kerry for favoring intelligence budget cuts. Ã¢€œI didnÃ¢€™t get the impression on the floor yesterday that Chairman Goss was somebody who was putting himself in line for the director of CIA,Ã¢€ Pelosi said at a meeting with reporters last month, adding, Ã¢€œThe crowner for me was when [he] held up something about John Kerry that was, I think, supposed to be clever.Ã¢€
Roberts’ words come as no surprise. I noted several days ago that Goss was considered un-confirmable. In times past, a sitting House Intelligence Committee chair would have been, to use George Tenet’s infamous phrase, “a slam dunk.” No longer. The idea that a DCI should come without any obvious political baggage pretty much eliminates anyone who could do the job effectively. It is, fundamentally, a political job. That will be all the more true if anticipated reforms transform that office.
President Bush said last week that he had not decided whether to nominate a new CIA director before the November election. But over the weekend, Roberts and Rockefeller publicly urged Bush not to delay his choice. It is widely believed that Bush will soon appoint a new CIA director, partly to avoid extra criticism should terrorists strike the homeland between now and November. Ã¢€œI donÃ¢€™t think you can have an acting director during the global war on terrorism, and during the transition, and right during the threat to the homeland, and right during all these bills that are now put out,Ã¢€ Roberts said, referring to a slew of proposals that various lawmakers in the House and Senate have put forth to restructure and reform the intelligence community.
A number of lawmakers favor installing a new director of national intelligence Ã¢€” akin to an intelligence czar Ã¢€” at a level above the chief of the CIA to coordinate intelligence operations.
Roberts refused to endorse such a radical restructuring at such an early stage, before getting input from the Ã¢€œwise menÃ¢€ and Ã¢€œwise womenÃ¢€ of the intelligence community. Ã¢€œI think that Senator Rockefeller and I both agree that we ought to be very deliberate and very careful,Ã¢€ Roberts said.
Several interesting names are in the mix for the DCI job:
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, former director of the National Security Agency William Studeman, former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Chris Cox (R-Calif.), are other names that have been floated.
Nunn would be an interesting consensus choice, as he’d almost certainly be acceptable to a President Kerry should a transition take place in January. I’m not sure, though, that Bush’s instinct to just keep John McLaughlin on until after the election isn’t the best plan, though. Indeed, we should decide the future of the job before we fill it.