WASHINGTON – As President Bush narrows the field of candidates for CIA (search) director, a senior Senate Democrat is questioning the idea that he might choose spy-turned-congressman Porter Goss (search), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller (search), top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Friday it would be a mistake to let a politician - "any politician from either party" - succeed CIA Director George Tenet, who leaves next month.
Administration officials have said Bush is considering at least two people, including Goss. Rockefeller said he was concerned about the reports.
"The debacle related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (search) has damaged the credibility of the intelligence community and the image of the United States around the world," Rockefeller said. "We need a director that is not only knowledgeable and capable but unquestionably independent."
White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said Bush has not made a decision, and has not given any indication when he will. "Sometime this year," Bartlett said.
Bush could wait until after the election to avoid drawing attention to intelligence controversies during Senate confirmation.
However, with heightened concerns that terrorists may try to attack before the elections, Bush could decide he wants to have a permanent replacement during the sensitive time - though the president has expressed confidence in Tenet's deputy John McLaughlin (search), who will take over as acting director.
Senior Senate Intelligence Committee members, including Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, have not been given an indication about what's ahead, congressional aides said. One Republican official said Goss has told associates that, as far as he knows, the deal is not done.
But the focus has shifted to the congressman.
A native of Connecticut, Goss worked for the CIA's clandestine service for about a decade, until a sudden illness led him to leave in the early 1970s. Other retired operatives persuaded him to come to sunny Sanibel, Fla., for recovery. He got involved in local politics and has called the seaside community home for more than 30 years.
A Yale graduate like Bush, Goss, 65, has served in Congress for 16 years and has chaired the Intelligence Committee for nearly eight. He planned to make his 2000 election bid his last, but decided to stay on after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
He co-chaired a congressional inquiry that said countless miscalculations helped prevent authorities from stopping the attacks.
Goss has declined to comment on the CIA director vacancy beyond saying the decision is up to Bush.
He rejects any suggestion that his ties to "The Company" make him less willing to criticize the CIA. "I'm very proud to have served in the agency. It gives me a perspective but not an obligation" to be supportive, he has said.
The 75-page intelligence authorization bill (search), which passed the House this week, contained a section criticizing the CIA's clandestine service, which did not go unnoticed among the CIA's senior leadership or the rank-and-file personnel that Goss might someday lead.
After years of trying to "convince, suggest, urge, entice, cajole, and pressure" the CIA to make wide-reaching changes to the way it conducts its clandestine mission, the legislation says, the committee believes the agency "continues down a road leading over a proverbial cliff."
Tenet, known as a defender of agency personnel, fired off a curt letter to Goss Wednesday, saying he was surprised by the tone and content, and found some judgments "absurd" and "ill-informed."