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Is Bush’s Nominee for CIA Chief Porter Goss a Decoy For Re-Election?

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President Bush nominates Republican congressmember Porter Goss of Florida to head the Central Intelligence Agency. We speak with former CIA analyst Ray McGovern and Slate.com columnist Fred Kaplan about the nomination and why some are calling it a purely political move. [includes rush transcript]

President Bush has nominated Republican congressman Porter Goss of Florida, to head the Central Intelligence Agency, replacing George Tenet who resigned as director in July.

Bush made the announcement Tuesday in the White House Rose Garden said Goss is "the right man to lead this important agency at this critical moment in our nation’s history."

Goss was himself a CIA spy for 9 years. He was stationed in Miami during the Cuban missile crisis, then in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Western Europe. For the past eight years he has been the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

The nomination which is subject to confirmation by the Senate comes amid calls for sweeping intelligence reforms proposed by the 9/11 commission including subordinating the head of the CIA and the chiefs of other such agencies under a single, new intelligence director as well as the recent report from the Senate Intelligence Committee on lapses failures regarding Iraq.

Reactions to the nomination were mixed. Some government officials expressed support, but others came out in strong opposition, calling the choice a partisan political move.

Goss recently criticized Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry for supposedly having voted for cuts to the CIA’s budget back in the 1990s.

In the Valerie Plame case months earlier, Goss told the Herald Tribune of Florida that the uproar over allegations that someone in the White House purposely identified a covert CIA agent appeared largely political and didn’t yet merit an investigation by the House Select Committee on Intelligence. Goss said he would act if he did have evidence and said, "Somebody sends me a blue dress and some DNA, I’ll have an investigation."

Senator John Rockefeller, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which will hold hearings on the nomination, declared that it was a mistake to select "any politician, from either party." Former CIA Director Stansfield Turner, who served in the Carter administration, called the nomination "the worst appointment that’s ever been made."

The timing of the nomination has also come under question because of the potential for opposition in Congress in the middle of a presidential campaign. A "Republican political operative" told the Washington Post that Bush chose Goss because "poll data showed Kerry had closed the gap with Bush on handling of terrorism."

If confirmed, Goss would be only the second congressman to head the CIA after George H.W. Bush.

  • Ray McGovern, 27-year career analyst with the CIA. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. He worked under George Bush Sr., both when he was director of central intelligence, as well as when he was Vice President. He was one of his daily briefers.
  • Fred Kaplan, writes the "War Stories" column for online magazine Slate.com. He is the author of "The Wizards of Armageddon" and a former staff reporter for the Boston Globe, having been its military correspondent, Moscow bureau chief, and New York bureau chief.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to two people for analysis: Ray McGovern is a long-time C.I.A. analyst with the agency for more than a quarter century and one of the top daily briefers of Vice President George Bush, and we talk to Fred Kaplan who writes the war stories column for the online magazine, slate.com. He’s author of The Wizards of Armageddon, and a former staff reporter for the Boston Globe. Fred Kaplan, let’s start with you. Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of Porter Goss’s relevant history here.

FRED KAPLAN: Well, his relevant history is that he is very much in favor of revitalizing the directorate of operations, the clandestine service of the C.I.A. And one part of the reports on 9/11 and the need for intelligence reform talks about the need to, you know, put more spies on the ground, to penetrate outfits like al Qaeda more rather than to rely on, say, Pakistani intelligence, but another part of these reports says that intelligence analysis must be more independent, must not be so subject to political pressure, and that’s where Porter Goss could run into deep trouble, because he has acted especially in the last few months as a shill for the Bush White House, denouncing John Kerry, denouncing Bill Clinton, staving off investigations. He tried to block the formation of the 9/11 commission at the behest of the White House. He has been doing this at a time when he is also clearly been running for this job. That doesn’t bode well.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about his history as a C.I.A. operative?

FRED KAPLAN: Well, I wasn’t really able to find out exactly what he did. I mean, these kinds of things are embroiled in great history, but a case officer in Central America during the 1960s, you know, probably would have been involved in recruiting spies. He was in the Dominican Republic for a while. He might have had some involvement in support operations for Johnson’s invasion of the Dominican Republic in the mid 1960s. In Western Europe, you know, the height of the Cold War during the 1960s, he could have been running agents in and out of Berlin. I’m really not sure. There are two different kinds of clandestine operations. One, you know, overthrowing government, blackbag operations, that sort of a thing. The other is to assist collection of intelligence information. Placing a radio — you know, putting up a covert radio activity meter in — near a suspected site in North Korea, putting a bug on a phone in Syria, infiltrating an agent in al Qaeda, and next — I really don’t know what kind of — which type of covert operations Mr. Goss was involved in.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Fred Kaplan, who has written about Porter Goss for Slate online magazine. Porter Goss becoming a young C.I.A. officer fresh out of Yale University. Ray McGovern, your immediate response to the nomination of Porter Goss to head central intelligence.

RAY MCGOVERN: Well, Admiral Stansfield Turner, who is the last effective director of central intelligence said it exactly right, this is the worst possible nomination one could imagine. I was doing a little research in my files, and yesterday out fell a Washington Post piece from the 19th of June, 1997, so, we’re talking seven years ago. It talked about Porter Goss’s committee he had just assumed chairmanship of it, and this was the report. The C.I.A. was criticized for "limited analytical capabilities" and "uncertain commitment and capability to collect human intelligence." It went on to say that foreign language skills was sorely lacking. Okay, why do I mention that? That was seven years ago. There is no more important, no more influential or powerful person than the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee. He controls the purse strings. He can do pretty much whatever he likes in terms of monitoring things. Porter Goss has given a new meaning to the word oversight. It really became the House Intelligence Overlook Committee, and he bears as much responsibility for the fiascos of the last several years by the C.I.A. and other parts of the intelligence community. He bears as much responsibility as George Tenet, and that’s a lot of responsibility. So, he’s got a record, you know. And the record is not only of extreme partisanship, but extreme incompetence as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Fred Kaplan, can you talk about this comment and his position because he has a significant position in Congress on intelligence?

FRED KAPLAN: Right. It is fairly interesting that until last June, Porter Goss had the reputation of being just chumming up to the intelligence community, not really posing any difficult questions, challenges, oversight. Then in last June, he suddenly issues an authorization report for the FY05 intelligence bill which accuses the C.I.A. of having lost sight of its original mission, of being a dysfunctional organization, it was very strong language to the point that Tenet wrote a reply, a very angry reply and disseminated the reply all over Washington. Well, in retrospect, this is right before Tenet quit, or got fired or whatever happened. I think it’s not going too far to say that Goss was told that this job was going to be coming up. He was being tapped as a possible successor, and all of a sudden he gets very critical of George Tenet, and it was also at this time that he was tapped on June 1 to write the sort of official critique of John Kerry’s major foreign policy address. It appeared on the George Bush website, and basically, if you look at that, it doesn’t say much of anything. It just says this speech, because of political me-tooism, he neglects the historic achievements made by this president and simply advocates things that our great president has already done. So, this is a guy who did nothing for seven years, and then when the job becomes open to him, all of a sudden, he starts criticizing the man who he would succeed.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, let’s talk for a minute about his attitude to the case of the blowing of the cover of the undercover operative, Valerie Plame. First Fred Kaplan, can you talk about his comment to the Florida paper, and then I want to get Ray McGovern’s comment who has worked in the agency for a quarter century.

FRED KAPLAN: He was asked about it. This was fairly early on. He said this is a wild and unsubstantiated allegation, obviously piled on by partisan politicians during an election year. There is no evidence of willful disclosure so therefore no grounds for an investigation. The interesting thing about this I mean, this was what appears to be the blowing of a covert — of an undercover agent for political reasons. This is the kind of thing that any former spy or any prospective C.I.A. director would be appalled by, would want to look into with the slightest hint of impropriety, and yet Porter Goss remained loyal to the Bush White House by just brushing the whole thing off.

AMY GOODMAN: And saying he would need a blue dress with D.N.A. on it.

FRED KAPLAN: Yeah, and then he uses the opportunity to bash the democrats at the same time. I mean, it’s — it’s a real — it’s kind of a cheap shot that — and against the — just inimical to the inherent interests of anyone involved in intelligence. It’s not the kind of remark that you would expect coming from anybody who is about to head the nation’s largest — the nation’s chief spy agency.

AMY GOODMAN: Ray McGovern, your response as a former C.I.A. man yourself.

RAY MCGOVERN: Well, there is a an adjective to describe the reaction of Porter Goss, republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee and Pat Roberts, the republican chair of the Senate Committee, and that is unconscionable. Here was an unconscionable act. Enough was known about which reporters called Joe Wilson himself to tell him about — tell him about the approach from White House folks that blew the cover of his wife. Now, people need to remember that his wife wasn’t the economic analyst on the banana crop in the Dominican Republic. Rather, she was running operations designed to stem the flow of illicit weapons of mass destruction to rogue regimes. She had her own network of spies and all of those people were placed in — well, we don’t know what happened to them. At least I don’t — in great jeopardy. So, for Pat Roberts to reject Senator Jay Rockefeller’s entreaty to please, let’s ask the F.B.I. to investigate this on grounds that that was "inappropriate," and then for Porter Goss to make up stories about he needs someone to come to him and to tell him what happened when it was all over the press is disingenuous at least. I would — you know, I just —- Fred, I think you make a good point when you talk about the abrupt change in tone on the part of Tenet last June, chumming up to everything and really defending the agency over many, many years, and then all of a sudden becoming its harshest critic. I see that the timing is incredibly important here. Around May and June, Karl Rove, as I reconstruct it, told the president, look, you’re vulnerable on two main issues: the fiasco in Iraq and 9/11. We have to find somebody to pin the blame on for these things. As George Tenet, he’s willing to take the fall. Let’s get rid of him, and then later, we’ll be able to say, well, yeah, it was bad. The C.I.A. misled me, the president. Talked about weapons of mass destruction and tricked me into starting this war, the C.I.A. made me do it, and then with respect to 9/11, which they knew would be very much in the news, well, the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. all blew it. Instead of acknowledging the fact it there was plenty of evidence out there, it was the president’s responsibility. The name of the game here and the reason for the timing of this announcement is to deflect attention away from the president during these next crucial 82 days, have it all go to the C.I.A. and its mistakes and so forth, focus on that, and what really, really amuses me is the democrats don’t get it. You know -—

AMY GOODMAN: I want to just end with Fred Kaplan, a comment that he has written in his piece. "First as the cosponsor of the bill extending the PATRIOT Act 2, Goss may be less keenly concerned about reconciling the expansion of covert ops with the preservation of civil liberties or about legal issues generally. In an interview with PBS’s Frontline, Goss said he thought no laws would need revising to give a president the authority to order assassinations." Your final comment, Fred Kaplan.

FRED KAPLAN: I think that’s right. I think the curious thing about that is that here is someone who is the chairman of a House committee designed to oversee the C.I.A. and these — with legislation, with legal interpretation, and he is basically announcing that no, it’s sort of free for all, do what you need to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on that note, Fred Kaplan of slate.com, and Ray McGovern, former C.I.A. analyst for more than a quarter century. Thank you for being with us.

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