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President Bush Nominates Rep. Porter Goss as CIA Director

August 10, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: More on the Goss nomination now from: Sen. Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee; Stansfield Turner, who headed the CIA in the Carter administration; former CIA Analyst Ray McGovern, a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a group of retired intelligence officers; and author James Bamford, who has written three books about the intelligence community.

Sen. Roberts, what do you think of the Goss nomination?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: I think it’s a pretty good nomination. At 6:30 A.M., I got the call. About a month-and-a-half ago, at least in terms of the principles of the White House, there was a debate as to whether or not to go ahead and name a person who would be in charge of the central intelligence agency or to simply wait until after the election, but with the terrorist threat the way it is now, we have just a lot of concern in regards to a possible attack between now and the election.

The CIA’s role in regards to Afghanistan, Iraq and the global war against terrorism; I have nothing really against John McLaughlin, who I think is a fine public servant, a very skilled and a person who has a lot of expertise and intelligence, but I do think that we need a permanent CIA director, and I think Porter Goss would do a good job.

JIM LEHRER: For those who don’t remember, McLaughlin is the acting head of the CIA. right now. Go ahead. Excuse me.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Sorry. I should have prefaced that. I apologize. But with Porter, I have known him 16 years. I served in the House with him for eight and on the Senate with eight. I don’t think there has been a week that’s gone by we haven’t talked about the inquiry that we have produced in regards to the intelligence prior to the war. His feelings on intelligence reform, he’s given me a lot of good advice and counsel and hopefully, it’s been the other way.

I know that there are some people who say that he’s partisan. I have not really seen that. He’s been independent. You can have different views, but that doesn’t mean that a person is partisan. So here we have an intelligence officer, we have an army officer in intelligence and we have the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. I think he can hit the ground running.

JIM LEHRER: Senator, you suggested a few weeks ago it might not be a really good idea to have a CIA nominee who did not have the full support of the Democrats involved in this, as well, because it would immediately politicize the situation. Are you over that problem?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Well, I’m in the over… I don’t know if I’m ever over the problem or the challenge of working with my friends across the aisle. I’m sure they see that we’re a wild and woolly bunch and, you know, visa versa, especially during a campaign year, but there was a remark made by somebody whose advice I trust that he thought that Porter being a member of Congress and a politician was too partisan.

If that’s the case, we wouldn’t have Lee Hamilton or we wouldn’t have Bob Kerry or John McCain or we wouldn’t have Chuck Rob all working on this intelligence challenge or for that matter we wouldn’t have any member of Congress serving in any capacity in terms of public office. But my comment was that if that was their position, obviously it would make it more difficult. I think that’s changed. We had some public comments by some on the Democrat side that have been rather critical. But we’ve had some comments by others that have been very supportive. And that’s why we have hearings, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: If you have concerns, why they’ll raise it during the hearings. And then we’ll see if we have the votes to confirm Porter, and I think we do.

JIM LEHRER: Admiral Turner, do you think it’s a good idea?

ADM. STANSFIELD TURNER: No, I don’t. I think Porter Goss is well-qualified from an intelligence point of view, but I agree with Congresswoman Pelosi who earlier in the program pointed out that it’s not wise to have our intelligence governed by a highly partisan political person.

And that’s particularly the case today when both the American public and the world public is questioning the credibility of American intelligence as a result of the brouhaha over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the connection of Saddam Hussein to al-Qaida, and, therefore, we must do everything we can to keep any impression that intelligence is being slanted for political purposes out of the picture.

JIM LEHRER: So it doesn’t have as much to do with Porter Goss as a individual but the fact he’s a Republican member of the House of Representatives?

ADM. STANSFIELD TURNER: Yes. And I think any member of Congress does not qualify well for this particular job. My predecessor was George H. W. Bush. He only lasted 11 months because Jimmy Carter just couldn’t carry him into a Democratic administration. A former chairman of the Republican National Committee, at that time, for instance. So you want continuity in this job. You’re not going to get it with a Porter Goss.

JIM LEHRER: If John Kerry is elected president.

STANSFIELD TURNER: Or if four years from now the Democrats come in. After all, Alan Dulles, one of the great DCI’s, directors of central intelligence, stayed there eight years and nine months. And you need that kind of continuity. It just was unwise, I think, to fill the position at all at this time.

When Porter Goss, if he does, gets there, it will be mid-late September. He’ll only have ’til 2 November before we know whether he is going to stay or not. Do you think the intelligence people are going to respond to big new initiatives he takes in that period of time? They’ll just weed him out.

JIM LEHRER: James Bamford, what do you think about that, well, first of all just the wisdom of appointing anybody, much less Porter Goss?

JAMES BAMFORD: Well, I think as a general rule it’s true that appointing a politician is probably not a very good idea. But I think you have to look at the individuals. People who are not politicians screw up occasionally. Alan Dulles, for example, was fired as director for the Bay of Pigs. So whether you’re a politician or you’re not a politician, you could be good or bad. And I think you have to look at the individual.

Porter Goss, I think, has done a terrific job in terms of focusing on the reforms of the intelligence community well before Sept. 11 — years before Sept. 11 — I wrote two books on the national security agency, the very technical eavesdropping agency that spies around the world, and Porter Goss was in the forefront of pushing for reforms of the signals intelligence, the highly technical eavesdropping capability that NSA has. So I think Porter Goss knows a lot about the human side, the technical side, and I think he’s dedicated to pushing the intelligence as opposed to the politics.

JIM LEHRER: What about the idea that he’s been chairman of the House Intelligence Committee for, what, six years now? And how has he…

JAMES BAMFORD: Eight.

JIM LEHRER: Is it eight? Six or eight or whatever — how has he performed his role as an oversight person of that Central Intelligence Agency at the time when the CIA has been having a lot of problems?

JAMES BAMFORD: Well, I think he’s been a… pretty much a champion of the intelligence community from the very beginning. He was one of the people in the forefront of pushing for more money for human operations in the late ’90s. In the mid-’90s, the intelligence – actually the number of recruits at the farm, the CIA’s training schools, was down to about 12, and soon after George Tenet came into office, Porter Goss helped push the bill across that got 500 new agents going through the farm. So he’s been sort of in the forefront of pushing for beefing up the intelligence community well before Sept. 11.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. McGovern, is Porter Goss the man for this job?

RAY McGOVERN: He’s most definitely not the man for this job, but I’d like to associate myself with Admiral Turner’s remarks. There are these drug-free zones around schools. There really should be a yellow sign around the Langley Headquarters of CIA, “Politicians may go no further.” If there is any key problem with intelligence over the last several years, it’s politicization. And people who grew up in the heavily politicized environment of Congress are ipso facto very poor candidates, as Walter has said, to being DCI.

There is also the matter of Porter Goss’s record. Because I have this excellent filing system, I picked out a Walter Pincus Washington Post article from 19 June ’97. And this is his committee reporting that U.S. Intelligence has limited analytic capabilities and an uncertain commitment and capability to collect human intelligence. The panel found that the community is lacking in analytic depth, breadth and expertise and foreign language skills. Now, we all know that to have been the case over these last couple years.

JIM LEHRER: That was 1997?

RAY McGOVERN: This was seven years ago. Now, no one has more authority or power than the head of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to fix these problems. My question is: It’s not the Oversight Committee, it’s the “overlooked committee.” He did nothing. He has no managerial experience.

JIM LEHRER: What about the idea that he comes from within the CIA and as a consequence will be better equipped than most to do something about it? Do you disagree with that?

RAY McGOVERN: That’s the other disqualifier. I served under nine DCI’s, okay, and actually I have written a chapter in a book being published by the Eisenhower Foundation. And I make the point that service in Congress where the art of compromise is necessary is antithetical to service as an intelligence officer where the science of seeking truth is necessary. So Congress, that’s one point.

Coming from within the agency has not been a good experience. Alan Dulles is a good example of that because in the end he could not separate these operations out from the real intelligence, Bay of Pigs, for example. Richard Helms came from inside the agency and was not able, not able during Vietnam, to tell Lyndon Johnson that there were twice as many enemy under-arms as the military and McPhee were spouting out, and his reason was to protect the agency. So when you grow up within the agency, to me that’s an automatic disqualifier.

JIM LEHRER: Sen. Roberts, that doesn’t sound too good. He’s not the man because he comes from the CIA; he’s not the man because he comes from where you are, the Congress of the United States. Other than that he’s perfect.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Well, you might as well add in the army intelligence while you’re at it and make it three for three. I guess it’s two for two in terms of the attitude. Let me point out that if the two distinguished gentlemen who are finding so much fault with Porter Goss, if I had asked them the question, oh, let’s see, just a couple of months ago, if the Senate Intelligence Committee with all of the differences that we had, and we had a bunch, could have reported out a 511-page document that most believed really outlines what was wrong with the 2002 national intelligence estimate that was the vehicle used to go to war to determine whether Saddam Hussein had the WMD, et cetera, et cetera, and that we would get a 17-0 vote bipartisan despite our strong difference, I would suspect they would say that’s not possible.

I remember two years ago when Porter Goss and myself and Nancy Pelosi, who is very outspoken and after all she’s the Democratic leader, so she has a right to say that. I didn’t get her full quote because I arrived late before the camera. But two years ago Porter Goss played a very important role in regards to the original 9/11 investigation which became the foundation for the 9/11 Commission which has now made a very far-reaching and historic recommendation on reform of the intelligence community.

And why they were able to do that and do no harm and get it right and also do it in an urgent matter that remains a question, and that’s Congress’s obligation. But Porter all the way through this has been a sound of reason. He’s been independent. He’s been candid. I don’t think he’s been partisan at all. I know partisan people in Congress, rest assured, and Porter Goss is not one of those folks.

JIM LEHRER: Admiral?

ADM. STANSFIELD TURNER: Jim, it’s really the perception. It’s a perception that a person who has been in partisan politics as deeply as any member of Congress will find it very difficult to divorce him or herself from that kind of an attitude. And we want the public particularly today with the emphasis on terrorism to have confidence in the intelligence that they’re hearing about and that they know that the president is getting. And I don’t think that you’ll get that confidence on this situation.

JIM LEHRER: James Bamford, how do you respond to Mr. McGovern’s additional point, because you know very much, you’ve written a lot from within the intelligence community, you heard what Mr. McGovern said, this isn’t going to be welcomed within the community either.

JAMES BAMFORD: Well, I just don’t think you can have these structures and say to somebody, is this… this can’t be a good CIA Director. I have seen really bad CIA directors who have been politicians, such as William Casey. I have seen very good ones who have done a very good job who have come from within the agency. William Colby, for example, fought very hard to get the truth out, even though he came up within the agency. So I don’t think you can have blanket rules like that.

You have got to look at the individual and say, is the individual strong enough to stand up to the White House or strong enough to stand up to the internal pressures within the CIA? Porter Goss has stood up to a lot of pressures. He’s really been very forceful in trying to force the CIA, the NSA, the other intelligence agencies, to reform when for years they haven’t wanted to reform. So I think you have got to look at those issues.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, Mr. McGovern, on the individual. You’ve made your points about what kind of individual he is in terms of what he’s done and what he’s doing now, but as a person, as a… for what his qualifications are and what you know about him, what do you think?

RAY McGOVERN: I would say that Bill Colby was the exception to the rule. With respect to Porter Goss, he’s got a record. Sen. Roberts eluded to his co-chairmanship of the joint committee that was the first to investigate 9/11. At the end of that committee, their final report left out all the information having to do with what the president of the United States was told prior to 9/11. The White House forbade that from being in the final report. Eleanor Hill, the executive director of that committee remonstrated loudly.

Porter Goss gave in to the White House, and so that report was ipso facto, incomplete, because it contained lots of stuff, but nothing on what the president was told before 9/11. That’s proof positive to me that you’ve got a partisan person here who will do the bidding of the White House. And that’s precisely why he’s been nominated and nominated now because the controversy will now be centered on the failure of intelligence, Iraq, 9/11, failure of intelligence and no attention being given to the failure of the president.

JIM LEHRER: We’ll see what happens. Thank you all four very much.