Goss: Not worthy, then overwhelmed, then gone

Before taking the director's job at the CIA, Goss declared himself unqualified. Was he right?


Tim Grieve
May 6, 2006 12:11AM (UTC)

Perhaps George W. Bush should have listened to Porter Goss in the first place. Before Bush named Goss to head the CIA, the former Republican congressman and one-time CIA agent said he wasn't qualified to work at the modern-day version of the agency.

In a 2004 interview Michael Moore's producers filmed but didn't use in "Farenheit 9/11," Goss said: "I couldn't get a job with CIA today. I am not qualified." Goss said that he lacked the "cultural background" and "technical skills" the agency now requires.

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Goss was hardly more reassuring once he got the director's job. In a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library last March, Goss said: "The jobs I'm being asked to do, the five hats that I wear, are too much for this mortal."

He'd apparently find plenty of agreement at the CIA. When Goss took over in 2004, he inherited an agency reeling from its failings on 9/11 and Iraq. He promised a fresh start, but, as the Washington Post reported in October, his progress mostly seemed to be of the backward variety. A year into his directorship, the Post said, Goss was "at loggerheads with the clandestine service" and struggling to deal with the departure of "at least a dozen senior officials," including Robert Richer, a top CIA official who quit then told senators that he'd lost confidence in Goss.

Goss was said to be unhappy about the diminished role he played after Congress reorganized the nation's intelligence apparatus and Bush installed John Negroponte as his intelligence czar. Robbed of much of the overall authority once held by CIA directors, Goss seemed determined to focus instead on the detection and prevention of leaks from his agency.

The Associated Press is reporting that Goss was "nudged" from the job as part of Josh Bolten's staff shake-up. A senior administration official says that Negroponte broached the topic of resignation with Goss, and that he did so with White House support. But if either Bush or Goss is unhappy with the state of things at Langley, Va., now, neither gave a hint of it as they announced Goss' departure in the Oval Office this afternoon. The president said that Goss had led the agency "ably," and Goss himself said that the CIA is "on a very even keel, sailing well."

Others aren't so sanguine. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts, who yields to no one in his deference to the Bush administration on intelligence issues, offered only tepid praise for Goss this afternoon, saying that "even he would say they still have some ways to go." Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she's "very worried" about the CIA. "The agency has experienced enormous turmoil at top levels during Porter Goss's tenure," the California Democrat said in a statement. "What was hoped to be an appointment of reform turned out to be one of missed opportunities."

Update: The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol isn't buying the White House's it's-all-part-of-the-shake-up spin, telling Fox News that some sort of "serious disputes," "internal problem" or "scandal" must have "popped" this week to warrant Goss's sudden and seemingly unexpected departure.

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Tim Grieve

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

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Cia Pat Roberts, R-kan. War Room

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