That was Easy…

By - Nov 1st, 2004 02:52 pm
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By Paul McLeary

One might dare hope that during an election cycle where intelligence gathering and national defense are the big issues, the nomination and appointment of a new CIA Director would spur some serious-minded policy debate. As with so much else in American political life, however, the chasm between what should happen and what does happen is big enough to throw a stack of policy briefings through.

On September 22nd, after a mere six and a half hours of questioning by its Intelligence Committee and a sadly familiar rollover of the Democratic leadership, the Senate approved the nomination of Republican Congressman Porter Goss as the nation’s new spy chief on a 77-17 vote. The reason for the easy confirmation of a career Republican politician to the country’s most sensitive intelligence post? Call it the Patriot Act jitters: Democratic lawmakers told several news outlets off the record that they were afraid that fighting the nomination would leave them open to GOP charges of obstructionism and a disregard for America’s security. Looking at Goss’s record, one sees that not only is he not independent, but that in many respects he is a Republican ideologue who could scuttle any attempts at intelligence reform that might prove inconvenient to a second-term Bush administration.Goss’s lightweight questioning before the Senate in September was emblematic of the fear of negative spin that pervades Washington in the Age of Rove. Democrats didn’t want to risk getting themselves—or their presidential candidate (who didn’t even bother to vote on the nomination)—into trouble. This could explain why, during Goss’s milquetoast questioning before the Senate, several problematic areas of his past record were ignored.

For starters, he was not asked about a comment he made in June during a conference call with reporters that chemical and biological weapons are ‘more dangerous’ than nuclear weapons. One wonders if this was simply a partisan attempt to attack John Kerry’s anti-nuclear proliferation proposals, or if it points to the more problematic issue of a man who has forgotten about all that loose nuclear materials floating around the Russian republics.

Who’s reality is this, anyway?During the aforementioned conference call, Goss also stated that he wasn’t concerned at all about North Korea’s active nuclear program because he believed that the United States had ‘called their bluff successfully’ and, thus, they were ‘not making any progress’ on the nuclear-weapons front. This flies directly in the face of U.S. intelligence estimates that suggest North Korea has developed plutonium for six new warheads over the last two years. In whose reality does this not constitute progress? Perhaps Goss believes the president when he says that the CIA analysts are “just guessing” when they write their reports based on intelligence gathering and empirical evidence. If this is the case, he is clearly an inauspicious choice to head the agency.

Also in the dustbin of unasked questions is the hotbutton issue of the ‘house arrest’ of Pakistan’s top nuclear scientist, A.Q. Kahn, who has treated his country’s nuclear program like a supermarket for unfriendly, unstable states and terror groups. Are we merely to take Pakistan’s word that Kahn is no longer selling nuclear secrets to the highest bidder? Does Goss have an opinion on this? Apparently, the U.S. Senate isn’t interested in finding out. Or more to the point, the Bush administration isn’t interested in finding out, and the Senate, wary of an election-year fight, is simply laying down on the issue.

“Experience” counts.Goss does have experience with the CIA and the intelligence world, having worked for the agency (and reportedly having a hand in the Bay of Pigs debacle as a young officer) in the 1960s and 70s, eventually settling in Florida, from where he ran for Congress as a Republican in 1988 and has served in the House since. For the past eight years Goss has been chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He also served on the House Rules Committee and House Select Committee for Homeland Security, where co-led a joint congressional inquiry into the intelligence failings surrounding the 9/11 attacks. Word has it, however, that Goss is a bit under the spell of Vice President Cheney, and that his presence on the joint 9/11 inquiry was set up in order to give the administration some protection.

His closeness to the administration and his 16 years as a Republican Congressman should have been enough for Democrats to more vociferously challenge his nomination, if nothing else for fear of the CIA directorship becoming fully politicized, thereby institutionalizing the blind spots we just witnessed with the intelligence failure leading up to the invasion of Iraq.

In June, Goss told the House he was committed to restructuring an American spy network humiliated by the 9/11 and Iraq weapons failings, but along with other Republicans, exonerated the Bush administration from any blame. He accused the CIA of “ignoring its core missional activities” and of having “a dysfunctional denial of any need for corrective action”—criticism George “slam dunk” Tenet dismissed as “absurd.” Goss has also called John Kerry’s national security views “unrealistic and dangerously naïve.” What’s more, one Democratic staff member was quoted as calling him “a pit bull for the administration” in the Congressional paper The Hill in July. As if to confirm suspicions about his partisanship, his first act after the Senate’s confirmation was to hire four House Republican aides to senior positions at the CIA.

The hits keep on coming.There are plenty more instances of Goss’s partisan, lazy and often clueless hackery, not the least of which was his disastrous chairmanship of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The Committee not only refused to hold an open hearing to investigate who in the Bush administration outed CIA operative Valerie Plame to journalist Bob Novak, but also called for the declassification of Richard Clarke’s closed door congressional testimony in an effort to discredit him in the wake of his public criticism of the administration’s intelligence failures.

Under his chairmanship, the Select Committee also postponed indefinitely an investigation into the Abu Ghraib scandal and dragged its feet on investigating the failures of prewar Iraqi intelligence. On October 20th, Robert Scheer of the Los Angeles Times reported that a CIA report into September 11 that’s “more blunt and more specific than the earlier bipartisan reports produced by the Bush-appointed 9/11 Commission and Congress” is being kept under wraps at the behest of political appointees. Which political appointees? None other than the newly-minted head of the CIA:  Porter Goss.

Goss’s record leads us to the doorstep of a man who, due to his ineffective chairmanships and partisan sniping, appears more interested in political gain than in making the country safer. Does this mean he is incapable of being an effective CIA Director? Not necessarily, but the evidence does throw up some serious red flags that the Senate confirmation process is charged to investigate. By discharging their duties so pathetically, simply to avoid an election year headache, the Democrats in effect curled up and played dead; a decision we may all pay for in the end. VS

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