An Ivy League degree and years of service as a trained and experienced field operative make for a solid foundation as a CIA chief, particularly when you need someone to shake things up and build the solid organization that is right for the times.
That’s why Dwight Eisenhower appointed Princeton graduate and former Office of Strategic Services agent Allan Dulles to head the agency in 1951.
Dulles turned the CIA into the Cold War’s premier intelligence agency, giving equal weight to collection, analysis, and convert operations. He held the job until 1961 when President Kennedy fired him after a CIA-backed coup against Castro collapsed at the Bay of Pigs (though the failure had less to do with CIA intelligence than with Kennedy’s refusal to approve military support for the operation). Still, there was no question that Dulles accomplished great things in his decade at the helm.
The year Dulles retired, another young Ivy League graduate entered the high-stakes espionage game played between the Florida Keys and the coast of Cuba: Porter Goss.
On Tuesday, President Bush nominated the former Yale alum, CIA spy, eight-term congressman, and chair of the House Select Intelligence Committee to replace the departed George Tenet as CIA director. It’s the right choice. Goss will be another Allan Dulles. He’ll build the right organization for our troubled times. Not that you’d know this to listen to his critics. But the arguments against Goss’s appointment make little sense.
“Goss is too partisan.” Yes, he’s a card-carrying Republican. So what? Every CIA director ever appointed had a party affiliation. Like them, Goss is perfectly capable of checking his party card at the door.
“Goss is part of the problem.” We’re all part of the problem. As the 9/11 Commission report spells out, the flaws in the current intelligence system are structural and long-standing. They transcend any one session of Congress or presidential term. In fact, the origins of shortfalls in human intelligence date back to the Johnson administration.
We can’t, as Stalin did, shoot all the generals. It’s going to take someone who knows the CIA to fix the CIA. And there is probably no one in Congress more qualified than Goss.
“Goss won’t make the necessary changes.” Sure he will. The president already has endorsed the sweeping intelligence reforms proposed by the 9/11 Commission. Goss wouldn’t take the job unless he shared Bush’s commitment to reshaping the intelligence community and its leadership.
After his tenure in Congress, Goss had planned to retire. Neither he nor Mrs. Goss had any intention to spend more years in Washington–in what no doubt will be a pressure-cooker job. But there are two reasons why Goss will take this job and do it correctly. 1) As his 30 years of public service indicate, he’s dedicated to helping his country. 2) He’s fully committed to restructuring the CIA. This became clear when he clashed publicly with Tenet earlier this year over the agency’s failure to improve is capacity for human spying, which shows his patience with the pace of reform in the CIA has run out.
Nominating Goss, and nominating him now, is the right thing to do. We know that there are serious threats out there that need to be addressed. Long-term reforms, such as those proposed by the commission are important, but they will take months to put in place and months and years to gain the benefits. On the other hand, getting a director on hand right now is vital. Leaving the nation without a CIA director is like sending a ship into a storm without a captain.
The timing is also propitious. Goss’s hearings will provide another opportunity and the right venue for the Senate to further consider and discuss the commission’s recommendations with one of the principle leaders who will be responsible for implementing them.
“I am concerned with the president’s choice,” said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D., W.V.), vice chairman of the Senate intelligence panel. “But [I] will work with Chairman [Pat] Roberts to move the process forward.” Kudos to Sen. Rockefeller. Advancing the process is exactly the right thing to do. And since, as we’ve seen, there’s little cause for “concern,” let’s move “forward”–and give Goss a chance to help us make our country safer.