"Have they all drunk the Kool-Aid?"
asked a former CIA colleague, referring to the stampede to appoint a new director
and radically restructure the intelligence community. The Kool-Aid allusion
was to the "groupthink" that led disciples of self-anointed "messiah"
Jim Jones to mass suicide via poisoned Kool-Aid in 1978.
Attorney General John Ashcroft warned on May 26 that the government has "credible
intelligence from multiple sources that Al Qaeda plans an attack on the United
States" before the November election. Yet the president and Congress have
picked this very time – as our intelligence and security forces are ordered
to battle stations – to create mammoth distraction and uncertainty among those
on whom we rely for our safety.
As my colleague put it: "It just doesn’t parse. Besides, if nominee Porter
Goss (R, Fla.) becomes CIA director and the president does not win reelection,
Goss has but six weeks before becoming a lame duck. And then still further disruption
and uncertainty would be in store for an intelligence community that yearns
in vain for stability."
I reminded my friend that this is not about stability, efficiency or preparedness.
The current hyperactivity is driven by politics, and experience has shown that
politics and intelligence reform are a noxious mix.
In the light of 9/11 and the debacle in Iraq, no politician wishes to risk
being seen as putting the brakes on intelligence reform.
In this highly charged atmosphere, the Republican-led Senate would confirm
Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau, were the president to nominate him.
As one wag put it referring to Goss, a bird in the hand is worth it for
Bush. Even if the president is reelected, he cannot be sure he will have
so docile a Senate next year.
Rep. Curt Weldon (R, Pa.) recently commented: "Porter is a team player
. . . and will probably defer to what the president wants." Which,
of course, is a very large part of the problem – as so dramatically illustrated
by the sycophancy of former CIA Director George Tenet.
"The Record Is The Record"
With those words, Mr. Goss tried to deflect questioning
at his nomination hearing on Sept. 14. Okay, we'll bite. Let’s look at that
On June 19, 1997, The Washington Post reported:
"The House Intelligence Committee criticized U.S. intelligence agencies
for having ‘limited analytical capabilities . . . an uncertain commitment and
capability to collect human intelligence . . . a lack of analytic depth and
expertise . . . and a lack of foreign language skills and limited in-country
familiarity.’ The panel’s sharply written report on the fiscal 1998 intelligence
authorization bill carried more weight than usual because for the first time
it was chaired by a former C.I.A. operations officer, Rep. Porter J. Goss (R,
Goss chaired that committee for the next seven years, overseeing (overlooking?)
a steady decline in all of those key areas. The fact that during that period
he did not use the committee’s power of the purse and its watchdog prerogative
to ensure that those deficiencies were corrected gives a hollow ring to his
current assertion, "I can make that happen." Instead of doing so as
head of the intelligence committee, Goss spent seven years cheering for the
CIA – which he still affectionately calls his "alma mater" – until
last June when the signals from the White House changed and he stunned everyone
by abruptly becoming its harshest critic.
To their credit, Senators Levin, Durbin and DeWine asked tough questions of
Goss during Monday’s hearing but found him entirely unresponsive.
Politics And Reform Don't Mix
Mr. Goss also lacks what is demonstrably a sine
qua non qualification for a Director of Central Intelligence – experience
managing a large, highly complex organization.
Moreover, the job for which he has been nominated requires the kind of nonpartisan
approach that is alien to anyone who has functioned for very long in the highly
politicized ether of the U.S. Congress – again, as the tenure of George Tenet,
who made his mark serving senators, so amply demonstrated.
Goss co-authored an opinion piece in The Tampa Tribune on March 8, claiming
that in the 1990s Sen. John Kerry "was leading efforts in Congress to dismantle
the nation’s intelligence capabilities." And in June, Goss interrupted
debate on the House floor by displaying a sign with a 1977 quote from Kerry
that called for cuts in the intelligence budget. These antics raise legitimate
concerns with respect to Goss’s ability to be nonpartisan.
Even more troubling to veteran intelligence analysts is the way Goss’ prepared
statement parroted the president’s rhetoric to the effect that terrorists "are
committed to the destruction of our economy and our way of life" – boilerplate
that merits as much credence as the now thoroughly discredited pre-war claims
about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
The situation is much more complex than that. If Mr. Goss believes what he
said, he has not read the definitive work on "why they hate us," CIA
analyst Michael Scheuer’s recent book Imperial
Hubris. And if he doesn't grasp this complexity, how could he possibly
convey it to leaders relying on his counsel?
Ray McGovern – a CIA analyst for 27 years from the administration of John
F. Kennedy to that of George H. W. Bush – has written "A Compromised C.I.A.:
What Can Be Done?" in Patriotism, Democracy and Common Sense published
this month by the Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation. McGovern’s chapter includes
a detailed discussion of the qualities needed in a CIA director.
This article first appeared at TomPaine.com