President Bush today nominated Rep. Porter Goss of Florida to head the CIA amid terror and tumult, saying the former undercover operative “knows the CIA inside and out” and can bolster its spy network.
“He is well prepared for this mission,” the president said of Goss, chairman of the House intelligence committee who was an Army intelligence operative before joining the CIA the 1960s. “He’s the right man to lead and support the agency at this critical moment in our nation’s history.”
Goss, whose nomination must be confirmed by the Senate, had been mentioned prominently in speculation about a successor to departed CIA Director George Tenet, who left amid a torrent of criticism of the agency’s handling of prewar intelligence on Iraq.
Bush still has a major decision ahead of him. He has embraced a cornerstone recommendation by the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks: creation of a new intelligence czar to oversee the activities of the CIA and more than a dozen other intelligence agencies. Bush has not named the czar.
“I think every American knows the importance of getting the best possible intelligence we can get to our decision-makers,” Goss, 65, said during the Rose Garden announcement.
If the president names an intelligence czar, his CIA chief would lose some power in the reshuffling and essentially would be required to report to the new head of all intelligence operations.
Neither Bush nor Goss discussed the new organization, and the CIA had no comment Tuesday on Bush’s appointment. The president said Goss will advise him on how to implement the Sept. 11 panel’s recommendations.
Both men stressed that Goss’ experience as an undercover CIA officer would help the agency bolster its ability to use spies, instead of just technology, to infiltrate terrorist networks. “The essence of our intelligence capability is people,” the Florida Republican said.
Said Bush: “To stop them from killing our citizens, we must have the best intelligence possible.”
Tenet’s last day was July 11, and the much-criticized agency since then has been under the leadership of acting Director John McLaughlin.
The administration was believed to have debated internally whether to choose a permanent successor to Tenet before the fall elections, thus putting itself in the position of having to defend its choice in confirmation hearings held in a politically charged atmosphere.
Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, a member of the Intelligence Committee, said Goss has the credentials to be the overall intelligence czar, if Congress creates that position. “He could be this new person, if we go there,” DeWine said. He described Goss and tough and pragmatic and said, “He’ll be someone who can walk into the president and look him into the eye and tell him what the truth is and not flinch.”
Goss would take over the agency at a pivotal moment.
Leaders of various intelligence agencies worry about a series of high-profile events this summer that could become attractive terrorist targets. It is widely believed that al-Qaida and its allies might try to strike the United States in a way that replicates the political and economic impact of March’s train bombings in Madrid, Spain.
The Connecticut-born Goss graduated from Yale in 1960 and launched a clandestine career, working for Army intelligence for two years and eventually the CIA’s most well-known division, the Directorate of Operations.