Goss as CIA Boss

President Bush made the right decision Tuesday by proposing a new CIA chief sooner rather than later.

While Mr. Bush might have been tempted to avoid a political fight in the Senate by waiting until after the Nov. 2 election, he realized the nation needs a competent and credible CIA chief during this high-risk period for a terrorist attack leading up to the election.

His pick, GOP Rep. Porter Goss, comes with many high-quality credentials. The Yale-educated Florida congressman has been both a longtime CIA agent and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He has been highly bipartisan in his oversight work, and had planned to retire from Congress this year. He's also trusted by the president, and is a strong advocate of the CIA recruiting more spies.

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Still, he is a politician as much as an intelligence insider, and may not last long enough in the job to make reforms if John Kerry becomes president in January. And he's never managed such a large bureaucracy.

But these days, finding a truly nonpartisan CIA chief who can win over both the nation's spymasters and a critical Congress would be difficult even for Kerry. The CIA has come under heavy political fire in recent months for misreading Iraq's weapons and not foiling 9/11. Even if he is temporary, Mr. Goss could be an effective transitional figure as Congress sorts out major reform of all the intelligence agencies, including the creation of a national super-spy who would also oversee the CIA.

Goss recently displayed unusual partisanship by criticizing Kerry for his Senate votes against increased spending for intelligence agencies. He also put his name on a criticism of the CIA that was particularly harsh. Those slip-ups work against him.

Still, given the war on terrorism, Bush should be given leeway to have a CIA chief he can work with, and who can advise him on the many reforms proposed by the 9/11 commission. Goss deserves a grilling by the Senate. But he may be the best choice for now.

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