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CIA Nominee Sails Toward Confirmation

September 21, 2004|Bob Drogin | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Republican congressman chosen by President Bush to head America's battered intelligence community sailed through a final day of questioning Monday and appeared headed for quick confirmation this week by the full Senate.

Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that, if confirmed as CIA director, he would protect intelligence analysts from pressure from the White House or other outside sources to tailor judgments to support political goals.

"I feel very strongly that it destroys the credibility of the intelligence if it is thought to be contaminated by the policymaking process," Goss said. He said the analysts needed additional "safeguards" to prevent abuses, and said he would encourage any intelligence official facing undue pressure to "call your friendly director" to complain.

The Senate panel's investigation earlier this year into America's flawed prewar intelligence on Iraq concluded that CIA and other analysts had faced intense pressure from White House and Pentagon officials during the run-up to the war. But investigators found no one at the agency who had buckled or shifted positions because of outside interference.

If confirmed, Goss would become head of the CIA and director of central intelligence, which would make him the nominal chief of America's 14 other spy agencies.

Both roles are likely to change under reform proposals under consideration on Capitol Hill. But Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the committee chairman, told reporters after the hearing that Goss was likely to remain the nation's top intelligence official if Bush was reelected.

Goss also said he intended to work quickly to improve communication among analysts at the CIA and other intelligence agencies, and among experts who work in different specialties, including counterterrorism, narcotics trafficking and weapons of mass destruction. Goss described the system of cooperation as "broken."

Roberts praised Goss as a "forthright witness" and said he expected the panel to approve Goss' nomination today. No strong political opposition to Goss has emerged, although some Democrats are likely to vote against him when the nomination goes to the full Senate this week.

During eight hours of hearings over two days, Democrats attacked Goss for what they described as overtly partisan statements on behalf of Republican positions that he had made during his 16 years in Congress, including the last eight as head of the House Intelligence Committee. Several questioned whether he would be sufficiently independent if he became the nation's top spy.

During Monday's hearing, for example, Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the committee vice chairman, held up two white binders that he said held 10 years of Goss' partisan statements. "How does one simply become a different person?" Rockefeller asked.

Goss, who worked as a clandestine CIA officer in Europe and Latin America in the 1960s, repeated earlier pledges to leave politics behind if confirmed as CIA chief. But he said no intelligence official should be held responsible for what political leaders did once the CIA had made its best effort to collect and analyze intelligence.

"I do not think it's appropriate ... to go and tell a policymaker how to use product," he said. "That would scare me a lot.... There has to be a clear delineation between delivering unvarnished product and allowing policymakers to do their job in the way they see fit."

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