Confirming a new director of the CIA traditionally creates a special kind of nervous scrutiny beneath the Capitol Dome. In the wake of the 9/11 commission’s report, amid questioning of the accuracy and White House use of CIA information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the nomination of Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) to be the next CIA director is exactly the kind of thing that could, as jazz great Louis Armstrong once said, “make coffee nervous.”
Congress is deservedly nervous. After all, it is being asked to consider someone to lead an organization that Congress as a whole knows so little about. The 9/11 commission placed this knowledge gap in the sunlight by criticizing the intelligence committees for failing to exercise their power to probe, and such criticism extends more broadly to Congress as well. Even though Congress as a whole approves annual intelligence budgets and other applicable legislation, only those with a “need to know” actually see the details. And, as evidenced by recent legislation (The Independent National Security Classification Board Act) introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.), even Senators with a “need to know” and their colleagues who should know are sometimes the last to know.
Of all the secrets surrounding Congressional oversight of the intelligence community, it is no secret that Goss has dreamed of capping his government service as a former CIA agent, House Member, and chairman of the Intelligence Committee by running the CIA. Goss gave up the gavel following to nomination to the CIA.
The Intelligence Committee’s own Web site depicted its then-chairman as follows:
“First elected to the House in 1988, Porter now finds himself at the center of events in the investigation surrounding the September 11th terror attacks. As Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Porter is spearheading the investigation on possible intelligence gathering failures prior to the attacks. He is also leading the effort to revitalize the nation’s intelligence network to better meet the terrorist threat by strengthening our human intelligence and analytical capabilities.”
As the first nominee for director of the CIA in the post-9/11 commission environment, the confirmation process must be more rigorous than ever before.
Confirmation hearings remain the best way for Congress, nominees, supporters and opponents to meet head on. As an invaluable oversight tool, the Goss hearings create an opportunity and a responsibility for Congress to determine whether:
1. Goss’ record, skills and abilities qualify him for the job.
2. Congress has identified the specific leadership and management challenges that an executive search and selection process for a new CEO of the nation’s leading intelligence operation must satisfy.
3. Goss’ nomination is moot in light of the bills and executive orders related to restructuring the intelligence community.
Goss has a record as a federal employee in the intelligence community, and a record in Congress as both a Representative and as chairman of the Intelligence Committee. From that, Congress must learn the answers to certain questions.
• Does he also possess a record that would reflect his executive ability to take the helm of an agency that is our government’s central intelligence organization, and respected, if not feared, around the world?
• In light of the legislative proposals and executive actions to restructure and realign the intelligence functions, is Goss a transformational leader and manager?
Embedded in these questions is an important appearance issue. The 9/11 commission criticism of the intelligence committees is similar to criticizing a corporate board of directors for lack of oversight and accountability. The chairman of that board of directors in the House of Representatives is Goss. Was he part of the solution or part of the problem?
If Congress was examining the nomination in the context of a corporate investigation, the idea of Goss moving from board chairman or even a board member to CEO would be attacked from all sides. It is a corporate governance issue and Congress is now the accountability board.
Congress is already reviewing competing bills to reorganize the intelligence community. Even the existence of a common thread creating a National Intelligence Directorate belies significant differences inside. One bill places the NID in the White House, while Sen. Pat Robert’s (R-Kan.) bill dismantles the CIA as we know it, and redistributes its three directorates under a new NID that remains independent.
Even President Bush’s nomination of Goss as only director of the CIA and not expressly as director of central intelligence creates a new precedent that would require a change in law. The National Security Act of 1947 established the CIA, the NSA and other components of the national security community, and consolidates the position of director of central intelligence (an overarching responsibility for 15 intelligence components) and the director of the CIA into one person. Why did Bush nominate Goss only to be director of CIA?
The Congress depicted in the 9/11 commission report — an island of intelligence knowledge and oversight — can no longer quietly handle the confirmation of a new CIA director. Congress must operate across all its jurisdictions to assess the nomination of a new director of the Central Intelligence Agency — if there still is a CIA by the time the hearings are over.
Steven L. Katz served as counsel to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and assisted then-Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) in writing the 1992 law opening the government’s files on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He is the author of “Lion Taming: Working Successfully, With Leaders, Bosses, and Other Tough Customers.”