Goss easily confirmed to lead troubled CIA
WASHINGTON — The Senate brushed aside concerns over partisanship and independence Wednesday to easily confirm Rep. Porter Goss to head a CIA that’s been battered by three years of intelligence failures.
Goss, a CIA operative in the 1960s, was approved 77-17 and is expected to resign quickly from the House of Representatives. White House officials didn’t immediately say when Goss would take over the agency.
The CIA’s “errors and omissions before the Iraq war and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are well known, and Porter Goss is the right man to repair what is broken,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Goss, 65, will replace George Tenet, who resigned in July just before the Sept. 11 commission and the Senate Intelligence Committee issued scathing reports on CIA failures. President Bush nominated Goss in August.
A Florida Republican, Goss is leaving Congress after 16 years. He chaired the House Intelligence Committee for seven years, gaining a reputation for nonpartisanship that was eroded this year when he sharply attacked the Democratic Party and John Kerry.
During confirmation hearings, Goss said the jobs of congressman and CIA director were very different, and he pledged to be nonpartisan. He said he regretted some of his public partisan remarks but didn’t explain except to say, “The record is the record.”
That response wasn’t good enough, several Democrats said Wednesday during a five-hour floor debate.
“He should have been open and candid about what he meant,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., in explaining why he voted against Goss. “I hope he proves me wrong.”
Democrats questioned whether Goss could protect the CIA and its intelligence reports from political pressure from the Bush administration and be an active leader for intelligence reform.
“It’s critical that the CIA director tell the truth and take pride in his independence,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, who opposed Goss.
Rockefeller cited Bush’s comments Tuesday after his United Nations speech that senior intelligence officials were “just guessing” in their bleak assessment of the situation in Iraq.
“That is an outrageous statement and clearly an example of this president dismissing the validity of intelligence analysis that doesn’t agree with his policies,” Rockefeller said. “Never before has it been more important to have a CIA director who will stand up to the president.”
But Goss won critical support from several Democrats, particularly Florida’s two senators, Bob Graham and Bill Nelson.
Graham and Goss co-chaired the Sept. 11 congressional investigation, and their ties are deep. Graham, as governor, named Goss to fill a vacancy on the Lee County Commission in Florida 22 years ago.
“Party affiliation did not matter then and it should not matter now,” Graham told his colleagues. “I can assure you that he will be independent in his judgment and clear and tough-minded in leading us to reform.”
Republicans also pointed out that Goss issued a House Intelligence Committee report this year that was very critical of the CIA’s human intelligence.
“He called it dysfunctional – he sure did not sugarcoat it,” said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss.
Roberts told the Senate that Goss could be “the next and last CIA director” if Congress revamps the intelligence community and creates a national director to head all 15 agencies that handle intelligence.
Roberts said it was possible that Bush may name Goss to that job. During hearings, Goss said he would accept “whatever cards are dealt me.”
Goss becomes the second congressman to head the CIA. The first was George H.W. Bush, who was appointed by President Ford.