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Not the Best Company Men

June 30, 2004

In "Cloak and Gown," historian Robin Winks showed how the CIA, during its golden age in the 1950s, recruited many of its operatives from the Ivy League, particularly Yale University. A prestigious family background, foreign travel and the finishing touch from Yale or Harvard provided the proper entree into the agency.

The leading candidates to replace CIA Director George J. Tenet thus seem to have at least the right pedigree. Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), a Yale graduate, is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a former CIA operative, while Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) is a Harvard law graduate and head of the Homeland Security Committee. But their congressional records suggest they would compound, not cure, the CIA's ailments.

As chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Goss had an obligation to carry out strict oversight of the CIA before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Instead, he was known as the agency's biggest booster, shunning criticism of its performance and failing to push for comprehensive briefings on national security. Goss later defended the CIA's performance on 9/11 and in providing faulty intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In October 2003, when weapons inspector David Kay provided Congress with his interim report, which called for further attempts to discover Iraqi weaponry, Goss said: "I see no evidence whatsoever that anybody misled anybody, on the basis of this. The policy of the United States since 1998 to seek regime change in Iraq was the right policy." Goss became more critical once it was clear that no weapons would ever be found, but as recently as Tenet's resignation on June 3, he complained that "boatloads of stuff have been dumped on [Tenet] by all kinds of people."

Which makes his sudden dumping of stuff on the CIA last week particularly brazen. In an attempt to portray himself as a reformer, Goss enraged Tenet by declaring, during debate on the intelligence authorization bill passed June 23 by the House, that the CIA was heading "over a proverbial cliff" after years of mismanagement and neglect. Maybe so, but where was Mr. Intelligence Committee Chairman all those years?

Leading Democrats such as Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV of West Virginia have made plain their reservations about Goss, and President Bush may think twice. But Cox would be no better. His most famous foray into intelligence came in his bogus 1999 Cox Committee report, which grossly exaggerated nuclear espionage by China. It presaged the hyping of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

One better candidate would be the forceful Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, who opposed a rapid invasion of Iraq in defiance of Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. He is unlikely to buckle under the kind of political pressure that decreased Tenet's effectiveness. The CIA could use a director who can restore its luster, not partisans like Goss or Cox, who remain stuck in the past.

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