Partisan Spooks

Editorial

Los Angeles Times

November 18, 2004

It was always clear that Porter J. Goss, who bungled oversight as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was a questionable choice to run the CIA. But the turmoil that Goss, who assumed his new post in late September, has thrown the agency into shows that he isn't as bad as many feared. He may even be worse.

It began Monday with the abrupt resignations of two senior CIA officials — both with long experience in the clandestine service — who Goss' aides needlessly antagonized. Now Goss has piled on with a new memorandum, circulated late Monday, suggesting that CIA employees "support the administration and its policies in our work."

This statement is chillingly off-base. The mission of the CIA is not to support any one administration's policies. Its mandate is to provide the president with objective intelligence and to remain aloof from policy recommendations. For Goss to imply otherwise is to pervert the CIA's mission.

The danger is that by politicizing the intelligence process, Goss could not only further undermine the agency's morale and professionalism, but the nation's security itself. Unfortunately, Goss' partisan record leads us to read his memo in the worst possible light.

As a congressman, Goss ran interference for the White House whenever he could. As head of the intelligence panel, Goss and his aides, in contrast to the Senate, failed to release a bipartisan report on prewar Iraq intelligence. Goss opposed the creation of an independent commission to study the 9/11 disaster. And he savagely and falsely denounced Sen. John F. Kerry during the presidential campaign for trying to starve the intelligence agencies of funding. Now Goss and his assistants are at it again.

It's true that the CIA's directorate of operations, or covert arm, has a long history of resisting any reforms, whether it was under President Carter's director, Adm. Stansfield Turner, or President Clinton's director, John M. Deutsch. But there is no conceivable way that Goss' call for fealty to the president are going to improve the CIA's deficiencies. Instead, they will aggravate them.

Even as Congress lurches toward an intelligence reform bill, Goss' installation at the CIA offers a reminder that it isn't where the bureaucratic boxes are situated that really matters, it's the officials who occupy them.

If President Bush really wants reliable intelligence, he would tell Goss to back off. Unless, of course, the reason that he appointed Goss in the first place is that he covets a docile and politicized CIA, which is what he is about to get.