WASHINGTON – President Bush is facing pressure to nominate a permanent CIA (search) director quickly after a Senate Intelligence Committee report revealed serious breakdowns in U.S. intelligence-gathering and analysis.
George Tenet (search) left office Sunday after announcing in early June that he was resigning for personal reasons. That leaves Tenet's deputy, John McLaughlin (search), in charge as acting CIA director until a new appointment is made.
A senior administration official said in early July an announcement could happen soon, but a White House spokeswoman gave no indication Sunday as to specifically when.
"Acting director McLaughlin is a strong and capable leader," said spokeswoman Erin Healy. "The president will make a decision on a new CIA director in due course."
Appearing on Sunday television news shows, senators leading the intelligence committee urged Bush not to delay, saying the country couldn't wait until after the November election given the current terrorist threat. Their comments came two days after the panel concluded the CIA provided unfounded assessments of the threat posed by Iraq (search) with weapons of mass destruction.
"An acting director for the next six or seven months, during such a dangerous period for the United States, with all of these talks about attacks on the United States, is not acceptable," said West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the committee's top Democrat.
The chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said McLaughlin's ability to lead is limited as acting director even though he is "very skilled" and brings a lot of experience to the job.
"I hope the administration will send somebody up," Roberts said. "It will have to be an extraordinary nominee. If that's the case, we will go full time into the hearings to get him or her confirmed."
Committee members discussed several possible nominees: Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage; former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga.; House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla.; and former Navy Secretary John Lehman, a member of the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Federal officials said last week that intelligence from militant-linked Web sites and elsewhere indicated Al Qaeda (search) wants to attack the United States to disrupt the upcoming elections.
The government is putting in place elaborate security plans for the political conventions this summer in Boston and New York. Also, officials are considering how to secure polling places in November. Such security measures require a strengthened CIA, Rockefeller said.
"I think that John McLaughlin is trying to make some changes, but making changes in the CIA after a 50-year history of Cold War (search) operations and mentality is a very tough thing to bring about," he said. "We have to do a better job."
Without mentioning names, Rockefeller said there were four or five candidates who could get quick bipartisan support if Bush were to nominate them now. When pressed, however, Rockefeller said he did not believe Goss was one of them.
"I don't think that anybody who should be up for consideration should have a political background," he said. But Roberts quickly followed: "I don't know of anybody in Washington that doesn't have a political background of some sort."
The senators also clashed over whether administration officials had pressured intelligence analysts to reach predetermined conclusions on the Iraq threat.
The White House's role will be examined in a second phase of the committee's investigation, which probably will not be finished until after the election.
Rockefeller said the administration should be held partly accountable for what he considered to be an undue interest in invading Iraq after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"In the meantime, we have created, therefore, the lowest standing of the United States in our history around the world; more people trained and being trained for probably a generation or so to come to hate us and to try and hurt us abroad and here in the homeland," the Democrat said.
Roberts said the White House should not be blamed for asking tough questions of analysts and making public statements such as those referring to a "mushroom cloud" — which is produced after a nuclear explosion — in describing the Iraqi threat.
"The information that was provided to the president and to the Congress — that led to the same kind of assertive comments that the same critics are now blaming the president for — was flawed," he said.
The lawmakers appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press," "Fox News Sunday" and CBS' "Face the Nation."