President Bush on Tuesday nominated Florida Repulbican Rep. Porter Goss to head the embattled CIA, saying the former agency operative “knows the CIA inside and out.”
“He is well prepared for this mission,” the president said of Goss, chairman of the House intelligence committee. “He’s the right man to lead and support the agency at this critical moment in our nation’s history.”
"Porter Goss is a leader with strong experience in intelligence in the fight against terrorism," Bush added in a Rose Garden ceremony with Goss at his side.
Goss, for his part, said he believes “every American knows the importance of getting the best possible intelligence we can get to our decision-makers.”
A one-time Army intelligence operative and CIA agent, Goss will not automatically take over at the CIA, and instead faces a confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Members include Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., and Sen. John Kerry's running mate.
Some Democrats had objected to Goss when his name came up in recent weeks, saying he was too close to the CIA to help reform it after the Sept. 11 intelligence failures.
Goss currently chairs the House Intelligence Committee and had been considered a front-runner since the resignation last month of George Tenet.
The president said Goss will advise him on how to implement the recent recommendations made by the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission. Bush has already embraced a key recommendation: creation of a new intelligence czar to oversee the activities of the CIA and more than a dozen other intelligence agencies.
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.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan would not rule out Goss being picked as intelligence czar if Congress creates that position. He also would not say if Goss was a leading candidate.
Goss cautious on 9/11 proposals
Neither Bush nor Goss discussed the new organization but, speaking last week of the pleas for change by the 9/11 commission, Goss said “we cannot afford to make changes blindly or in an unnecessary haste. We can ill-afford to rush to judgment any more than we can tolerate needless delay.”
Tenet’s last day was July 11, and the much-criticized agency since then has been under the leadership of acting CIA 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 Senate confirmation hearings held in a politically charged atmosphere.
Reaction from Democrats was mixed.
“He’s a fine man and the fact that he’s a Republican congressman doesn’t bother me,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. “I would find it very hard to support any nominee who did not endorse the 9/11 commission recommendations on intelligence. ... The focal point of this nomination is not who he is, but these recommendations.”
Kerry neither endorsed nor opposed Goss, saying in a statement that “we must have fair, bipartisan and expeditious confirmations hearings.”
“This is a key position in fighting the war on terror and should not be left vacant,” Kerry said. “The most important thing we can do right now is reform and strengthen our intelligence services as the 9/11 Commission has recommended. I hope that Congressman Goss shares this view and will now support creation of this important post.”
Retired Adm. Stansfield Turner, who was CIA chief during the Carter administration and supports Sen. John Kerry’s presidential bid, said Goss’ selection marked “a bad day for the CIA.” Goss was chosen simply “to help George Bush win votes in Florida, he said.
“This is the worst appointment that’s ever been made to the office of director of central intelligence because that’s an office that needs to be kept above partisan politics,” Turner said.
Army, CIA, then politics
The Connecticut-born Goss, 65, 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.
When he got into politics, Goss had to get special permission to reveal that he was associated with “the agency” for roughly a decade, reportedly in Europe and Latin America. Goss still doesn’t discuss classified details of his work, although he has said he was deployed in Miami during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
“I had some very interesting moments in the Florida Straits,” Goss told The Washington Post in 2002.
In the early 1970s, an almost deadly staph infection forced him to retire to Sanibel, Fla., where retired CIA officers who had made the coastal community their home had convinced him to come for recovery. Each day, he tried to walk to the ocean as part of his rehabilitation.
Gradually, he stepped into local politics and ran for the House in 1988.
Rules waived to chair panel
Goss has served in Congress for 16 years, including eight years as House Intelligence chairman. He planned on making his 2000 election bid his last, but decided to stay on after the Sept. 11 attacks — with encouragement from Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. The opportunity was sweetened when Republicans waived a rule limiting his chairmanship to six years.
Along with fellow Floridian, Democratic Sen. Bob Graham, then the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Goss led an joint congressional inquiry into the attacks, which identified numerous miscalculations that prevented authorities from derailing the attacks.
With his well-placed experience, Washington insiders have speculated for some time that he could take over as director of central intelligence, overseeing the CIA and 14 other agencies that make up the intelligence community. Only one CIA director was also a member of Congress: Former President George H.W. Bush.