If Porter Goss becomes the next CIA director (a big if, by the way), two predictions can be made with confidence. First, to the extent possible, he will return the agency's clandestine branch to its adventurous, gun-toting days of yore. Second, he will be ruthlessly loyal to George W. Bush.
This morning, President Bush named Goss to succeed George Tenet as the nation's spymaster, and the appointment seems logical on several counts.
Goss, who has been the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence for the past eight years, was himself a CIA spy from 1962-71, stationed in Miami during the Cuban missile crisis, then in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Western Europe.
At least as pertinent from the vantage of the White House, he has been a fierce combatant in the battle against Democratic critics of the Bush administration.
Last June, when John Kerry gave what was heralded as a major speech on national security issues, the Bush-Cheney campaign tapped Goss to write the official critique. "John Kerry's speech today," Goss wrote in a fusillade that appeared on Bush's Web site, "amounted to little more than political 'me-tooism.' " He added that Kerry "neglected the president's historic achievements" and "remarkable progress" while at the same time embracing "the goals that the president has already laid to make the world a safer place."
Goss also came to Bush's aid a few months earlier, during the Joseph Wilson-Valerie Plame scandal. One would think that a former CIA spy might be appalled by reports that a White House official had publicly exposed the identity of an undercover agent, especially as an act of political retaliation against the agent's spouse. The blatant politicization of intelligence is, or should be, anathema to any professional spy—or prospective CIA director.
But Goss waved off the whole business. In an interview with his hometown paper, the Herald-Tribune of southwestern Florida, Goss said the uproar was the result of "wild and unsubstantiated allegations, which are being obviously piled on by partisan politicians during an election year." There was no need to mount an investigation, he said, because there was no evidence of "willful disclosure" (though how he reached that conclusion without an investigation, he didn't say). Then, in a jab against Bush's favorite target, Bill Clinton, Goss cracked, "Somebody sends me a blue dress and some DNA, I'll have an investigation."
It is for such reasons, perhaps, that John D. Rockefeller IV, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has described Goss to his aides as "too political" to be placed in charge of the CIA.
That Senate committee would have to confirm Goss' nomination before he could take the job. And here's where the picture gets strange. It is extremely doubtful at this late date that the committee would—or physically could—hold confirmation hearings before the November election. Even if hearings were somehow rushed (say, for "national security" reasons), and if Goss won the vote, he would be essentially powerless at least for a while: Any big changes he might order would be ignored until after the election, because everyone at Langley would know that Goss would get the boot if Kerry won.
So, why is Bush nominating Goss now? One possible answer: to create the impression that he's moving forward—that he's doing something—in the war against terrorism. The president took a similar step last week when he announced with great fanfare the creation of a national intelligence director, as recommended by the 9/11 commission—but without giving this NID any of the statutory powers that the commission said would be needed to make the post meaningful.