Florida Republican Rep. Porter Goss is “the wrong sort, with the wrong resume” to head the CIA, Michael Ledeen said. The resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (with whom we have been known to disagree on policy matters) explained that the CIA needs drastic change just now, and as a former CIA operative and a 16-year member of Congress (with eight years as head of the House Intelligence Committee that oversees the CIA), Goss is not the man to bring it.
Alternately, Ted Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, said it is possible that Goss, who has defended and criticized the CIA in recent years, might just shake the place up. “I was a little surprised the president made such an obviously partisan nomination,” he said, “but I’m not ready to write him off as a change agent just yet.”
Sen. Mike DeWine, an Ohio Republican, said Rep. Goss could be an independent CIA chief, “someone who can walk in to the president and look him in the eye and tell him the truth and not flinch.” We hope so, but that has yet to be proved.
Sen. DeWine was at least talking about what might be the most important characteristic any CIA director must have: the ability to tell the president of the United States that the intelligence doesn’t back the president’s preferences on a given issue and the president is just flat wrong. George Tenet, who served as a staffer on congressional committees before going to the CIA, was more of an eager-to-please schmoozer than a tough-minded, independent professional. We think his eagerness to please had a great deal to do with recent CIA shortcomings.
Whether nominating Porter Goss is good for the CIA or not, it could be a shrewd political move. Democrats like West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller had already recommended against him or “any politician from either party.” But if Senate Democrats delay or filibuster Goss’ confirmation, the president could use it as a campaign issue, arguing they are playing political games while the country is under the threat of attack.
The most important thing for the intelligence community is to get more spies in the field, communicate better, and be more flexible and imaginative in the face of a jihadist terrorist threat that has shown remarkable flexibility and adaptability. We hope Goss can bring some “out of the box” thinking to the CIA, but he’ll have to show us.