(AP) WASHINGTON – Even as Congress revamps the nation’s intelligence network, lawmakers appear intent on getting a new CIA chief in office before they adjourn next month for the November election.
President Bush’s choice for the post, retiring Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., was a CIA operative during the 1960s. He is expected to win Senate confirmation, but only after Democrats question his ability to steer a politically independent course.
Goss, 65, was the only scheduled witness at a confirmation hearing on his nomination before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.
“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,” the committee’s senior Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, said last month.
Rockefeller’s spokeswoman, Wendy Morigi, said Monday a key question is whether Goss can provide independent, objective analysis to the Bush administration, or if he will be inclined to reinforce what administration officials want to hear.
If confirmed, Goss would succeed George Tenet, a Senate Intelligence Committee aide when he was tapped by President Clinton to head the agency in 1997. Tenet resigned in June, just before the intelligence committee and the Sept. 11 commission released reports criticizing the agency’s performance during much of his tenure.
Congressional aides say they expect Goss will win Senate approval and Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has indicated he wants the Senate to vote on the nomination as soon as next week.
Some critics have questioned whether Goss, a CIA operative in Europe and Latin America for roughly a decade, may be too cozy with the agency to carry out widespread reforms. They also note that he had congressional oversight during the intelligence failures of the last few years.
Goss rejects suggestions that he can’t be a balanced critic, and his allies say his experience makes him well-suited for the job. After announcing the nomination, Bush said Goss “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.”
A former Army intelligence and CIA clandestine officer, Goss would also assume the post’s dual role as head of the 14 other agencies in the U.S. intelligence community at a tumultuous time.
The Sept. 11 commission called for separating the two jobs and empowering a new national intelligence director with budget and personnel authority over all of the nation’s spy network. The commission said the terrorists exploited deep institutional failings within the U.S. government.
Bush has endorsed giving the new director budgetary authority but not all of the powers that the commission suggested. Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry has endorsed adopting the commission’s 40-plus recommendations in their entirety.