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Porter Goss Promises to Keep Politics out if Confirmed as Head of the CIA

September 14, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


SPENCER MICHELS: Today’s Senate hearing to consider the nomination of Porter Goss to be director of central intelligence comes at a time when the entire intelligence community soon could undergo dramatic restructuring, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission. The CIA itself could possibly be eliminated. But if Congress and the president agree to do that, and create the new powerful position of national intelligence director, Goss would be a leading candidate to fill it.

President Bush selected Porter Goss last month to replace George Tenet, who resigned. In doing so, the president cited Goss’ ten year career as a CIA agent during the 1960s, his 16 years as a Republican Congressman from Florida, the last eight years as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The full Senate would have to confirm Goss, but he already has the support of Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS: Mr. Goss, why primarily do you want to be the DCI?

REP. PORTER GOSS: Mr. Chairman, the reason is simply because I believe I can improve our capabilities. We need better product for our policy-makers. We all know that. I believe the answer is revealing the way we do business in our analytical areas. There obviously are some shortfalls there. We have fragility in our technical national means, which needs attention. These are all matters which must not wait. They must happen now.

SPENCER MICHELS: No one questioned Goss’ qualifications at today’s hearing, but several Democrats did challenge Goss’ ability to remain nonpartisan. Vice Chairman Jay Rockefeller cited several occasions that he claimed showed Goss was anything but nonpartisan.

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER: On March 8 of this year, you co-authored an intelligence op- ed piece called, “Need Intelligence? Don’t ask John Kerry.” In it you made a number of highly charged– partisan in my judgment– allegations, and here are a few. “When democrats controlled the Congress, the cuts were deep, far-reaching, and devastating to the ability of the CIA to do its job to keep America safe.” And then you targeted Sen. John Kerry, who you claim, “was leading the way to make deep and devastating cuts in the intelligence community’s budget and was leading efforts in Congress to dismantle the intelligence capabilities of the nation.”

SPENCER MICHELS: Rockefeller then displayed a chart which, because it dealt with classified information, lacked detail.

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER: That’s a rather boring chart because that was all the CIA said I could do. But we can discuss this. I’m not gifted artistically.

SPOKESMAN: Are you sure it’s not a Mondrian painting or what… ( laughter )

SPENCER MICHELS: Rockefeller said the top line on the left indicated Sen. John Kerry’s proposed level of intelligence spending for 1995 was much greater than what Porter Goss proposed at the same time.

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER: The Goss plan would have, in your own words, made “deep and devastating cuts in the intelligence community budget,” I’m forced to conclude. But this year, an election year, you chose to level that charge against the Democratic Party as a whole and John Kerry by name. Why did you feel it necessary, in terms of this question of being nonpartisan and all the rest of it, did you feel it necessary to do that?

REP. PORTER GOSS: I have had times in my life when I have been very nonpartisan. I prefer nonpartisanship. And frankly, what comes more naturally to me is nonpartisanship. I don’t mean bipartisanship. I mean nonpartisanship. And certainly in national security that would be very, very critical. That’s the way I’ve tried to run the committee. My public record is my public record.

Today I am before you as a candidate for nomination to a job where it would be entirely inappropriate to make anything that looks like a partisan comment. So my answer to your question, sir, respectfully, would be, the record is the record. It is true, there is a record, and anybody is welcome to look at it. I have made a commitment to nonpartisanship if nominated to the DCI job. Thank you, sir.

SPENCER MICHELS: Goss’ answer did not satisfy Democrat Carl Levin.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: And now the question that Sen. Rockefeller asked and I’m going to try to get you to answer is whether or not that comparison of levels of spending that compared your bill, the bill that you cosponsored, with what Sen. Kerry proposed, was an accurate representation. That is my question, and it’s essential we get an answer to that question.

REP. PORTER GOSS: Senator, I believe that Sen. Rockefeller believes what he said, and the record is clear on what my record is. The facts speak in the record– they’re no different in the record. They speak for themselves.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: They don’t speak. Your speaking for them is much more significant at this moment for this senator than just simply saying the record speaks for itself. It’s just a direct question, and the reluctance troubles me, to give a direct answer to a factual question, what your belief is, whether that is an accurate representation of the facts.

REP. PORTER GOSS: Senator, you’ve asked me what my belief is…

SEN. CARL LEVIN: No, do you believe it’s an accurate representation?

REP. PORTER GOSS: I believe that the chart that Sen. Rockefeller put up, as vague as it is, which has no facts on it, is put up there in good faith by Sen. Rockefeller to make a point of the way he sees it. I believe people could interpret the record in different ways. That’s why I’m not going to try to interpret the record.

SPENCER MICHELS: There were other questions that dealt more with the operational side of intelligence. Ohio’s Mike DeWine:

SEN. MIKE DE WINE: I wonder if you could tell us where you think the agency is and the community is today in regard to the building back up of human intelligence and where we are today. The former DCI, Tenet, estimated that it would take at least five years to get where we should be in regard to human intelligence.

REP. PORTER GOSS: In terms of years, I don’t believe five is enough, but I can report some good news: That in my estimation, that we have some that we will be able to bring on before five years is up. But the great bulk of what we need is more than five years out there. In terms of global eyes-and-ears coverage on the core mission, which is close-in access to the plans and intention of the enemy, the mischief-makers, and other things we need to know in this country for our national security. It’s a long build-out, a long haul.

SEN. MIKE DE WINE: So what you’re telling us is you believe that it’s going to take more than five years to get where we need to be in regard to that?

REP. PORTER GOSS: That’s my estimate, sir. I will admit that I’ve only been doing homework for a couple of weeks. But in my previous position, combined with that homework, that would be my estimate.

SEN. MIKE DE WINE: That’s a rather frightening answer…

REP. PORTER GOSS: It doesn’t mean…

SEN. MIKE DE WINE: But I appreciate your candor.

REP. PORTER GOSS: Candor’s important, sir, especially with an oversight committee.

SEN. MIKE DE WINE: Absolutely.

SPENCER MICHELS: And Oregon Democrat Rob Wyden asked Goss if he still supported a controversial provision he added to intelligence legislation just last spring.

SEN. RON WYDEN: Which is giving the CIA the power to arrest American citizens in the United States. Do you favor that provision that was in your bill? And I just would like a yes-or- no answer.


SEN. RON WYDEN: So we’re clear that that 57 year-old ban — that’s what’s on the books now– with respect to the prohibition on the CIA arresting Americans in the United States, you will not favor changing that as CIA director?

REP. PORTER GOSS: CIA should have no arrest powers in the United States of America.

SPENCER MICHELS: Many of the questions were general in scope and broad in response. The more specific, classified subjects were saved for a closed session with the nominee. Senate leaders hope to move the Goss nomination to a vote by the full Senate sometime next week.