[UPDATE: Most Democrats are now saying they will not raise a fuss over the Porter Goss nomination. For yet another reason why Goss is the wrong guy to head the CIA–in addition to the reasons detailed below– click here….And the reasons why Goss should not get the job keep mounting. For an update to this update, click here.]
In a recent posting at www.davidcorn.com, I noted one big strike against Representative Porter Goss, whom George W. Bush has nominated to be CIA chief. Last year when the House intelligence committee, which he chaired, critiqued the prewar intelligence on Iraq, Goss, a Republican, joined Representative Jane Harman, the senior Democrat on the panel, in blasting the collection efforts of the intelligence community. But Goss, disagreeing with Harman, would not go so far as to assail the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq produced by the CIA and other intelligence agencies in October 2002. This NIE had errantly claimed that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and a reconstituted nuclear weapons program (and Bush subsequently overstated the overstatements of the NIE). Goss’s reluctance to denounce the NIE stands in sharp contrast to the recent Senate intelligence committee report, which harshly concluded that “most of the major key judgments” in the NIE “either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting. A series of failures, particularly in analytic trade craft, led to the mischaracterization of the intelligence.”
Goss’s unwillingness to criticize one of the most flawed NIEs in the history of the US intelligence community is troubling. And as one of the key intelligence policymakers of the last decade, he shares the blame for the recent failures of the CIA and the other intelligence agencies. But also troubling is his partisan record. Several times in recent months he has attacked Senator John Kerry’s record on national security. For instance, he co-wrote an op-ed titled “Need Intelligence? Don’t Ask John Kerry.” It is certainly no big deal for sitting GOP member of the House to throw brickbats at the Democratic presidential nominee. But it seems as if Goss has allowed partisan concerns to interfere with his obligations as one of the few legislators who oversee the intelligence world for the rest of us. He blocked a House investigation into the embarrassing prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib. He also said no to an investigation of the dealings between the Bush administration and Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi, who has been accused of leaking US secrets to Iran and whose Iraqi National Congress provided false information about Iraq’s WMDs. “I would say,” Goss remarked, “that the oversight has worked well in matters relating to Mr. Chalabi.”
These decisions indicate Goss is sometimes willing to put partisan needs ahead of national security obligations. And the best evidence to back up that charge is an interview he granted to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune last October. The subject was the administration leak that identified the wife of former ambassador Joe Wilson as a CIA officer. Goss dismissed the Wilson affair as mainly a political matter that did not warrant the attention of his intelligence committee. “I would say there’s a much larger dose of partisan politics going on right now than there is worry about national security,” he told the newspaper. And he characterized the leak as “inadvertent.”
But at this point, he had no evidence to back up his claim that the leak had been accidental. The leak–which was published in the July 14 column of Robert Novak–harmed the career and operations of Valerie Wilson (aka Valerie Plame), who worked in the important field of weapons counterproliferation. That is, the leak, to an unknown degree, undermined CIA efforts to track and block the movement of weapons of mass destruction and WMD-related materials.
CIA officers were outraged by the leak. And the CIA, by the time of Goss’s interview with the Sarasota paper, had asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation. Yet Goss downplayed the seriousness of the leak, quipping to the Herald-Tribune, “Somebody sends me a blue dress and some DNA, I’ll have an investigation.” He remarked that the controversy was a product of “wild and unsubstantiated allegations, which are being obviously piled on by partisan politics during an election year.”
But the Wilson affair was not a matter of “wild and unsubstantiated allegations.” The leak had definitely occurred. The story so far was that a CIA officer had been identified by administration officials for what appeared to be political reasons (to discredit or punish Joseph Wilson, who had accused the White House of misrepresenting part of its case for war in Iraq), that the CIA was in an uproar, and that the White House was implicated. In such a scenario, how could the chairman of the House intelligence committee not care and not be interested in discovering the full truth? Unless, of course, he was more interested in protecting the White House because it was occupied by the leader of his party.
After you read this article, check out David Corn’s WEBLOG by going to www.davidcorn.com. And if you haven’t yet read David Corn’s “Capital Games” column on Bush’s recent joke about rich people who dodge taxes, click here.
Goss rejected the call for an independent counsel. “I am not going to suggest there be any kind of independent counsel until it even rises to the level of coming to our committee’s attention, which it hasn’t risen to yet,” he said. Yet the Justice Department, months later, did hand over the investigation to a quasi-independent prosecutor whom the department termed an independent counsel. And Goss told the paper that all his knowledge of the Wilson leak had come from the news media–meaning he had not bothered to make any inquiries of his own about the episode. How could he have not been curious about the leak and its consequences? He never asked anyone at the CIA whether the leak had caused damage? Or how it had affected the morale of CIA officers?
Leaks are so routine, he told the newspaper, that his committee would only investigate them if the intelligence services regarded them seriously. “You know how much time we would spend doing leaks if we did nothing but leaks?” he said. “That’s all we’d do. There’s a leak every day in the paper–every single day–of some type or another.” But the CIA had considered this leak serious and had requested a criminal probe. Moreover, Goss acknowledged he had taken no steps to determine whether this leak was an important issue for the CIA.
If Goss could not see the difference between the Wilson leak–which was possibly a felony violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act–and the usual leaks that appear in the media and if he was unconcerned about administration officials blowing the cover of a CIA officer engaged in some of the agency’s most important work, then he does not deserve easy confirmation–or confirmation at all–as CIA director. After the MIA WMD scandal–in which the CIA not only blew the call but failed to inform Bush that he was exaggerating the intelligence–it is essential that the CIA be led by a person who does not play politics with national security and who does not allow political considerations to color his actions. In Washington, it may be hard to find someone who meets that qualification. With Goss’s attitude toward the Wilson leak, he sure doesn’t pass that test.
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