Can Porter Goss do his job?

The new CIA chief says he's overwhelmed.

By Tim Grieve
March 3, 2005 6:48PM (UTC)
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Porter Goss is the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, an outfit whose agents and analysts are supposed to be collecting and processing information that will keep Americans safe from future terrorist attack. It would be nice to feel just a little bit of confidence in the man and his ability to carry out his mission.

The problem is, Goss doesn't seem to have much confidence in himself. In a talk at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Wednesday, Goss said: "The jobs I'm being asked to do, the five hats that I wear, are too much for this mortal," adding that he is "a little amazed at the workload" required of CIA director.

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Well, that's comforting -- at least as comforting as Goss's admission that he doesn't understand what his role will be under the intelligence reform legislation Congress passed last year. "It's got a huge amount of ambiguity in it," Goss said. He said he didn't "know by law" what his "direct relationship" will be with intelligence czar nominee John Negroponte or Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

While Goss was giving the public reason to doubt his abilities Wednesday, he was also smashing right through the Bush party line on the war on terror. During the presidential campaign, John Kerry expressed hesitation about using the word "war" to describe the broad economic and political initiatives needed to transform the Middle East. The Bush-Cheney campaign unloaded on him. In a speech at the Reagan Library last March, Dick Cheney said that Kerry had "questioned whether the war on terror is really a war a war at all," and said that his words raised "ample doubts about his judgment and the attitude he brings to bear on matters of national security." But here's Goss at the Reagan Library yesterday:

"My job is winning the war on terror. I've got trouble with 'winning.' I've got trouble with 'war.' I've got trouble with 'terror.' We have to be very careful with how we use our words."

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We're waiting for Cheney to explain how Goss's comments don't cause "ample doubts" about his abilities. And we're waiting, too, for George Bush to explain how Goss's "trouble with 'winning'" the war on terror squares with Bush's insistence during the campaign that the war would be won -- right after he said it couldn't be.

Goss worked as a CIA agent in the 1960s, but he told Michael Moore last March -- before Bush picked him to replace George Tenet, who seems to be having a little crisis of confidence himself -- that he couldn't meet the agency's current hiring standards. "I couldn't get a job with CIA today," Goss said. "I am not qualified."

Could it be that he was right?


Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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