WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Senate confirmed Porter Goss as the new CIA director on Wednesday amid growing momentum for intelligence reform, terrorism threats and a persistent insurgency in Iraq.
The Senate voted 77-17 in a largely bipartisan showing to approve the nomination. The votes against President Bush’s pick for spy chief all came from Democrats.
During Senate floor debate before the vote, some Democrats said Goss, a Republican congressman from Florida, was too partisan to run a spy agency that needed a leader who could give the White House assessments that were not colored by political considerations
Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he opposed the Goss nomination because of a “troubling” record of partisanship, including public statements against Democrats and their presidential hopeful John Kerry.
Rockefeller said he also had doubts that Goss “would have a forceful and an independent voice on intelligence assessments that do not necessarily support a political agenda, if there is one, of the current president.”
Republicans said Goss was committed to intelligence reform and would offer a unique perspective having been a former CIA officer and until recently chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Senators said it was important to have a permanent CIA director during a time of terrorism threats and the Iraq insurgency. It will be Goss’ job to restore credibility to a spy agency battered by criticism for lapses related to the Sept. 11 attacks and prewar estimates on Iraq.
Goss will replace George Tenet who resigned in July. Tenet’s deputy John McLaughlin has been acting director.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, said Goss would open a new chapter.
“Senate confirmation of Porter Goss does not mean simply painting a new name on the mailbox at Langley. It represents the opening of a new era for the intelligence community,” Roberts said.
Senators from both parties emphasized the important role the new CIA director would play at a time when momentum is growing to restructure the U.S. intelligence agencies.
HOW TO RESTRUCTURE?
“There is no longer a question whether or not we are at the threshold of the single, most comprehensive and critical restructuring of the manner in which intelligence is gathered and analyzed and disseminated in at least a generation. The questions are what shape will this reform take?” said Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican.
One restructuring proposal would create a new post of national intelligence director to oversee the 15 spy agencies. Republicans have said the Bush administration would likely put Goss in that new post if it is created.
Goss could also have a short tenure if Kerry wins the White House in the November election and picks a new CIA chief.
Intelligence agencies have been sharply criticized for failing to uncover the plot for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and for prewar assessments that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, when no stockpiles have been found.
“The massive intelligence failures before the Iraq war were, to a significant degree, the result of the CIA shaping intelligence to support administration policy,” Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said in a statement expressing concerns about whether Goss would be influenced by political pressure.
Goss will not take office until he is sworn in by the White House, the timing for which was unclear.