New chief for an embattled CIA

Bush's pick, Rep. Porter Goss, brings inside experience as a former operative. But he's recently been a harsh critic of the agency.

By , Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor , Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor

He's a former CIA covert operator who also founded a newspaper.

An avid boater, he's long favored no-boating zones to protect manatees in Florida Gulf waters.

In Congress he's strongly backed the work of US spy agencies, yet recently he's become an outspoken proponent of intelligence reform.

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Rep. Porter Goss (R) of Florida is nothing if not a balancer. And that's a skill he'll need in spades if he's confirmed as the new CIA director, following President Bush's nomination Tuesday.

The next CIA chief will have to try to reconcile all manner of competing imperatives, analysts note. He will need to both protect Langley and renovate it - all while dealing with the political pressures unleashed by the presidential election and the criticisms of the 9/11 commission.

"He's going to have the problem of keeping politics out of it, and doing what he knows best, which is how to run the natin's intelligence mechanisms at this time of extraordinary challenge," says former CIA official John MacGaffin.

President Bush's announcement that he has decided to nominate Mr. Goss to run the CIA comes at a time of uncertainty throughout the US intelligence community.

"He is well prepared for this mission," the president said of Goss during the outdoor appearance Tuesday morning.

A Yale graduate like Bush, Goss worked for both Army intelligence and the CIA's Directorate of Operations before illness cut short his clandestine career.

Though he has publicly said little about what he did for agency, Goss has admitted that as a young operative he was positioned in the Florida Straits during the Cuban missile crisis.

He retired at a young age to Sanibel Island, near Fort Myers on Florida's Gulf coast. He eventually entered local politics, positioning himself as an environmentally conscious Republican who favored limits to sprawl and development. He as elected to Congress in 1988, and has served there ever since, although he eschewed retirement for reelection in 2002 only at the behest of Vice President Dick Cheney.

"I think every American knows the importance of getting the best possible intelligence we can get to our decision-makers," Goss said Tuesday, standing next to the president.

As chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Goss has gained generally high marks from colleagues over the years.

Similarly, intelligence analysts have been generally impressed with the low-key manner in which he has handled potentially incendiary issues.

Yet Goss is in the uncomfortable position of auditioning for a job that is no longer clearly defined. President Bush has embraced one of the central recommendations of the 9/11 commission, the establishment of a new intelligence director that will oversee the CIA and other intelligence agencies and activities. In the past, the CIA chief has also held a broader title: director of central intelligence. That function will now be moved out of Langley, but the political process has not yet determined how the new chain of command will be structured.

Goss "is a well-respected intelligence veteran, which is exactly what we need right now," says Kevin O'Connell, an intelligence expert at the RAND Corp. in Washington. "What's not yet clear is how [the CIA job] will relate to this national intelligence job that's being discussed."

Goss will also have to navigate a Senate confirmation process that may become highly politicized, as both parties struggle to be seen as the true heirs of the 9/11 commission's legacy.

Some Democrats have warned the White House that Goss, long a front-runner for the open CIA post, might be deemed too political a pick, given his partisan service in Congress. The senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, has said he would not support someone from Congress for the CIA job.

Furthermore, Goss's tenure as head of the intelligence panel has not been without bruised feelings.

"Everyone loves Porter, but his staff is pretty hard-core and is known to play hardball," says a knowledgeable intelligence source.

If he successfully navigates the Senate nomination process, Goss will face another possibly restive faction: the CIA old guard itself.

Though long seen as a defender of the agency, Goss has recently been critical of its failings. A section of this year's House intelligence bill contained scathing criticism of the agency's actions prior to Sept.11, for instance.

Some CIA officials have seen this criticism as a ploy by Goss to position himself for the CIA job. The CIA's current acting director, John McLaughlin, has rejected the complaints as ill-advised, for instance.

"There's going to be some old guard in the building who may not be fond of having someone from the Hill there, so there will be some flak on that . . . [Goss's] leadership skills will be tested there, because the place is in a real funk right now," says former CIA official Ron Marks.

In a possible sign of struggles to come, the tumult over perceived intelligence failings continued in Washington even as Goss's nomination was being announced.

House Democrats gathered for a caucus on Tuesday to talk over ways to push their own interpretation of 9/11 panel's recommendations. Members of the panel itself testified in open session on Capitol Hill.

"I think clearly that some that are more on the reform side of the agenda may consider [Goss]. . . as someone who may not bring some of the new thoughts into the process, but we have to have that position filled," says Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University.

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