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Ex-Spy Goss Is Known for His Loyalty to CIA

The lawmaker headed the House Intelligence Committee for seven years. Critics say he's too close to the agency and the Bush White House.

August 11, 2004|Bob Drogin | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — When terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter J. Goss was having breakfast here with Gen. Mahmud Ahmed, the visiting chief of Pakistan's intelligence agency.

Their chief topic, however, was not Pakistan's support for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan or its tacit tolerance of Osama bin Laden. Goss and his guest focused instead on Pakistan's rivalry with India and the dispute over the territory of Kashmir.

With his nomination Tuesday by President Bush to be the next director of central intelligence, Goss must face critics in the CIA, on Capitol Hill and elsewhere as they look into his background and question whether he can bring the right focus to America's demoralized intelligence agencies.

A former spy and longtime public official, Goss, 65, served seven years as head of the House Intelligence Committee, longer than almost any other chairman, before resigning the post Tuesday to prepare for his new role.

His patrician stewardship of the oversight committee overlapped with the troubled tenure of George J. Tenet, who stepped down last month as head of the CIA and nominal chief of America's 14 other intelligence agencies.

Goss would bring an unusual pedigree to the top CIA job. If confirmed by the Senate, Goss would be the first U.S. intelligence chief since William E. Colby, who retired in 1976, to have served in the CIA's clandestine service. Goss spent nine years as a covert CIA case officer in Latin America and Europe, recruiting spies and running operations, and was one of a handful of legislators with hands-on experience in intelligence matters.

However, he could be out of a job if Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry, whom Goss has criticized, is elected in November. Even if Bush is reelected, Goss could find his authority sharply reduced by a restructuring of the intelligence community. The White House has proposed naming a national intelligence director who would outrank the CIA chief, and other reforms are being pushed by members of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks.

Goss, in turn, hopes to strengthen the CIA director's job. He introduced legislation in June that would give the CIA chief control over most of the intelligence community's estimated $40-billion annual budget. The Pentagon now controls most of that money.

Goss has made a career out of exceeding expectations, and his supporters argue that he will rise to the challenge -- and to the stiff questions he is likely to face from critics and Senate Democrats who say he is too close to the CIA and the Bush administration.

"I reject those who say he's too partisan," said former Sen. Warren B. Rudman, a New Hampshire Republican who once chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee and headed the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 1997 to 2001. "Hell, anyone who comes out of Congress is somewhat partisan. He's very smart, very knowledgeable, very dedicated to the intelligence community."

Indeed, Goss' loyalty to the intelligence community is legendary. He repeatedly defended the CIA against criticism that it failed to adequately battle Al Qaeda before the Sept. 11 attacks, and he fiercely supported the agency's prewar assessments of Iraq's illicit weapons, now discredited.

Only in recent weeks has Goss spoken out -- and with a vengeance. In June, Goss unexpectedly lashed out at the CIA. He put his name atop a scathing committee-drafted critique that said the CIA had been "ignoring its core mission activities" and the clandestine service was on the way to being "a stilted bureaucracy."

"It caused him lots of problems and consternation at the agency," said a former senior CIA official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It seemed very out of character for him."

Born on Nov. 26, 1938, Goss grew up in Waterbury, Conn. He followed his father, Richard, to upper-crust Hotchkiss prep school, and then attended Yale, where he joined the Army ROTC. After two years as a military intelligence officer, he joined the CIA's clandestine service in 1962.

Goss had studied Latin and Greek and spoke fluent Spanish and French.

After a CIA stint in Miami, the agency assigned him to Haiti, Santo Domingo and Mexico as a covert operative.

He later moved to London, working in Europe and on a fast track at the agency, when he was overcome by an infection that nearly killed him. The agency ordered him home to a desk job.

Goss quit instead and moved his wife, Mariel, and their four children to Sanibel Island, a wealthy resort community off southwest Florida's Gulf Coast. Working with two other former CIA operatives, he founded a weekly newspaper called the Island Reporter in 1972 and became active in local Republican politics. He was mayor in two years and soon a multimillionaire from the sale of the newspaper, real estate and other business ventures.

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