WASHINGTON — Dan Glickman, the departing chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, was musing the other day about what it would be like to run the Central Intelligence Agency.
Dressed in a red flannel shirt and surrounded by boxes and emptied desks in his Capitol Hill office, he made it clear he never expected the current director of central intelligence--R. James Woolsey--to be leaving any time soon. Still, he toyed with the idea of someday being the nation's top spy.
"Sometimes I think to myself: 'What if they did come and ask me to be director of the CIA?' " he said. "But I don't know if the challenges that lie ahead and the changes that need to be made are possible without having the White House really behind it. You'd need to have the very, very active support of the White House."
As fate played out, Glickman, a Kansas Democrat, was tapped for secretary of agriculture on Wednesday, the same day the White House announced the surprise resignation of Woolsey.
In two short years at the helm as CIA director, Woolsey fought Congress for increases in his budget while other government agencies, including the Pentagon, were downsizing. He sought to reassure the public that the Aldrich H. Ames espionage case was an aberration, and yet at the same time, he issued reprimands--rather than more serious punishments--for those who allowed the spy scandal to go undetected for so long.
And he seldom, if ever, seemed to have the open support of the Clinton White House as he attempted to maneuver the global spy network as it monitored the internal machinations of other countries in the years after the Cold War. It has never been clear what caused the perception of distance between the White House and Woolsey.
It is that last point--a heavy dose of public support from the White House--that may well be the key ingredient in whether the new CIA director is able to pick up the demoralized agency and get it moving again. So far, the White House has given no indication of when a nominee might be selected.
"I'd like to see somebody who's smart, experienced and has good judgment and is tough," Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Thursday.
"I think he's got to be tough enough to take on the old boy's network at CIA and confident and resolute in his relations with the Congress.
"And," said Specter, whose committee will hold confirmation hearings on the CIA nominee, "he's got to be tough enough to demand and get access to the President."
One intelligence official, who asked not to be identified, agreed that many inside the agency did not feel Woolsey enjoyed the full backing of the President. But he said it was unclear whether it was just another example of President Clinton's seeming disinterest in foreign policy--as some of his critics have alleged--or that he has been preoccupied with other matters.
However, a senior White House official disputed the notion that Woolsey lacked Clinton's confidence. "That's a straw man," the official said.
While the White House said the search for a successor is just beginning, several names already are surfacing as possible nominees. They include:
* Deputy Secretary of Defense John M. Deutch, long a friend of Woolsey's who has won high marks at the Pentagon.
* Former Sen. Warren B. Rudman, a New Hampshire Republican who served on the Senate intelligence panel and now sits as vice chairman on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, created to recommend changes for improving intelligence gathering.
* Outgoing Rep. Dave McCurdy (D-Okla.), despite the fact that he has criticized Clinton's performance in the White House as one of the reasons he lost a bid to the Senate this fall. He was once a chairman of the House intelligence panel.