- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 11, 2004

President Bush yesterday nominated Rep. Porter J. Goss to head the CIA, saying the Florida Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence will be the “reformer” of the beleaguered agency.

“Porter Goss is a leader with strong experience in intelligence and in the fight against terrorism,” Mr. Bush said in a morning Rose Garden event. “He knows the CIA inside and out. He’s the right man to lead this important agency at this critical moment in our nation’s history.”

Mr. Goss, who has chaired the House intelligence committee for the past eight years, was a CIA agent from 1960 to 1971 and has been considered a leading candidate to replace former CIA director George J. Tenet. Mr. Tenet, a holdover from the Clinton administration, resigned his post last month, citing the desire to spend more time with his family.

Mr. Goss was among many in Congress sharply critical of Mr. Tenet, who told Mr. Bush before the Iraq war that the case for proving Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction was a “slam dunk.”

No large caches of weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, which has led to widespread condemnation of both the CIA and Mr. Bush. The agency also has been criticized for failing to provide enough intelligence to prevent the September 11 attacks.

“I think every American knows the importance of the best possible intelligence we can get to our decision-makers,” Mr. Goss said, adding that he is “deeply honored” to be picked to tackle the CIA’s “very strong challenge.”

Mr. Goss said he looks forward to the confirmation process in the Senate, which will take place within the last few months of a hotly contested presidential campaign.

Senate Democrats yesterday immediately denounced the nomination of Mr. Goss, calling the eight-term congressman too partisan for the post.

“When George Tenet announced his retirement, I made it clear that I thought his replacement should be someone of unquestioned capability and independence who could restore the credibility of America’s intelligence community,” said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat.

“I said then and I still believe that the selection of a politician — any politician, from either party — is a mistake,” he said.

Mr. Rockefeller, as vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, will be influential in determining the tenor of Mr. Goss’ confirmation.

“Porter Goss will need to answer tough questions about his record and his position on reform, including questions on the independence of the leader of the intelligence community,” Mr. Rockefeller said.

Some Republicans fear that the hearings will devolve into a contentious denunciation of Mr. Bush’s overall record on fighting the war on terror and the intelligence failures that occurred on his watch, hurting his re-election chances.

An aide to congressional Republican leadership, however, said “There’s nothing to be afraid of” if Democrats “want to pick that fight.”

“Democrats are already seen as soft and hyperpartisan on security issues when the country is calling for unity,” the aide said. “It’s a battle they are definitely going to lose.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, suggested that Mr. Bush timed Mr. Goss’ nomination to detract from her press conference urging the president to call Congress back to session to pass all of the September 11 commission’s recommendations to reform the intelligence community.

“Of course, we think it’s very important, when over a hundred Democrats come to Washington D.C. to focus on our national security, that that would be the day of days that the president would make this recommendation,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry did not join the condemnations of Mr. Goss’ nomination, but called for “fair, bipartisan and expeditious” confirmation hearings.

“This is a key position in fighting the war on terror and should not be left vacant,” Mr. Kerry said. “But the most important position is one that hasn’t been created yet, national intelligence director with real control of budgets and personnel.”

Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, the chairman of the committee, which will handle the confirmation, said he is working on getting the confirmation process to begin during the August recess. Mr. Roberts last month said he did not want to go through “a partisan fight right before the election.”

For his part, Mr. Goss resigned last night as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to avoid any conflicts of interest during his confirmation period.

“The chairman has sent a letter tonight to the speaker [of the House] temporarily resigning his chairmanship, pending his confirmation,” said a Goss aide who asked not to be named.

The move takes effect immediately, the aide said. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, New York Republican and panel vice chairman, likely will preside over today’s hearing on the September 11 commission’s proposals.

If confirmed, Mr. Goss will take over a spy agency undercut by findings of grave U.S. intelligence failures before September 11, and under pressure because of warnings that al Qaeda and its allies might try to strike the United States in a way that triggers a political impact like the March train bombings in Madrid.

The CIA nomination could put Mr. Goss in line to become the nations first national intelligence director, if Congress follows the September 11 commission’s recommendations to create that position, administration and congressional officials said. The proposed director would oversee all of the nation’s 15 intelligence agencies and serve as the president’s chief intelligence adviser, a role now played by the CIA director.

Mr. Bush last week urged Congress to move quickly on authorizing the executive branch position of National Intelligence Director (NID).

White House spokesman Scott McClellan, traveling with the president in Florida yesterday, said it’s “premature to speculate about a National Intelligence Director at this point” or on whether Mr. Goss would move to that position once Congress authorizes it by amending the 1947 National Security Act.

Mr. Kerry has called for Mr. Bush to immediately implement all of the recommendations of the September 11 commission, and suggested that his support for Mr. Goss will depend on the Bush administration doing so.

Mr. Goss, however, has shared the Bush administration’s reluctance to endorse every suggestion of the commission.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bob Graham, a former chairman of the Senate intelligence committee and among his party’s most trusted authorities on the subject, suggested that Mr. Goss’ nomination will proceed smoothly by applauding the nomination of his fellow Floridian.

“Congressman Goss brings a unique combination of service within the CIA and, for the last 16 years, active involvement in congressional policy and oversight of America’s intelligence community,” said Mr. Graham. “I will be urging my colleagues to see that this nomination is considered as expeditiously as possible.”

Shaun Waterman of United Press International and Charles Hurt contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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