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Potential Nomination of Goss for CIA Draws Fire

June 26, 2004|Greg Miller | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A key Democratic senator and senior intelligence officials raised objections Friday to the potential nomination of Rep. Porter J. Goss as director of central intelligence, complicating White House calculations on whether to push the Florida Republican for the job.

Goss, a former CIA case officer and current chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has emerged as a leading candidate for the top position at the nation's pre-eminent spy service -- a job to be vacated next month when George J. Tenet is scheduled to resign.

But comments from Democrats -- including Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- indicate that Goss could face a difficult confirmation fight in the Senate if he were nominated. And Goss enraged senior CIA officials this week by overseeing passage of an intelligence authorization bill that included scathing criticism of the beleaguered agency.

Senior CIA officers were so "frosted" by the criticism from Goss, one intelligence official said, that the lawmaker would face widespread hostility from agency employees if he were to get the job.

Goss often has been a stout defender of the CIA, prompting occasional criticism that he is too cozy with the agency.

Some saw the blistering critique he rendered this week as part of an effort to cast himself as a reformer.

But the intelligence official said that the widespread view at the agency was that Goss went too far.

"If he wanted to distance himself from the building, he overachieved," the senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity. Indeed, the official said, Goss' words were so insulting that they "harkened back to the days of John Deutch" -- who served as director of central intelligence under President Clinton and was reviled by agency operatives after he made remarks in the media disparaging the caliber of the CIA's case officers.

A Goss spokeswoman did not return calls seeking comment.

The spending bill, drafted by Goss' staff and approved overwhelmingly in a House vote Wednesday night, was accompanied by a committee report that berated the agency's directorate of operations, the branch responsible for sending agents overseas to recruit spies and collect secrets.

The committee report said the blunders of the clandestine service were partly to blame for the intelligence failures in Iraq, where search teams have yet to find evidence supporting pre-war claims that Baghdad had stockpiles of banned weapons.

The directorate of operations has been so mismanaged, the committee said, that it is heading "over a proverbial cliff" and is in danger of becoming a "stilted bureaucracy incapable of even the slightest bit of success."

The language prompted a stern reply from Tenet, who denounced the criticism as "ill-informed" and "frankly absurd."

Goss, 65, has angered Democrats by aiming barbs at their presumed presidential nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.

Goss recently criticized a Kerry speech on national security and made comments critical of Kerry during Wednesday's debate on the House floor.

A statement by Rockefeller Friday didn't mention Goss by name, but warned the White House that picking "any politician, from either party" as director would be a "mistake."

In a session with reporters Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said that Goss "would bring his experience from the CIA to the job" if he were named director. But she criticized his handling of the intelligence bill and said the job of director should go to someone less partisan.

Pelosi noted that Goss held up a placard displaying an old Kerry quote on intelligence spending as he criticized the Senator during the House debate. When he did that, Pelosi said, "I thought: 'This is not a man who wants to be in line for the CIA.' "

The White House has said it is narrowing its list of candidates for director, but it is not clear whether the administration will make a nomination before the November elections. After Tenet steps down July 11, the job is to be held on an interim basis by John E. McLaughlin, the CIA's longtime deputy director.

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