WASHINGTON – President Bush's nominee to head the CIA (search) promised Tuesday to shed his political past and provide precise, objective and independent intelligence to the president and Congress. But after a 41/2-hour confirmation hearing, some Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee were not convinced.
"I have made a commitment to nonpartisanship," retiring Rep. Porter Goss (search), R-Fla., told the panel. He conceded that during his 16 years in Congress he may "at times" have engaged in debate with too much vigor.
"Rest assured, however, I understand completely the difference in obligations the position of (director of central intelligence) carries with it and that which the role of a congressman carries," said Goss, who formerly chaired the House Intelligence Committee.
Goss' demeanor rankled some Democrats. He said his record speaks for itself on a number of tough issues, including his initial opposition to the Sept. 11 commission and his positions on intelligence spending in the 1990s. Goss and the Democrats have each blamed the other for deep budget cuts.
Sen. Richard Durbin (search), D-Ill., accused Goss of dismissing many of the questions from senators.
"Whoever briefed you for this hearing and said that when you get in a tight spot over something you have said or done, keep repeating 'the record is the record,' did you no great service," Durbin said.
After the hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (search), D-Calif., said she wants to know which Goss she will be asked to confirm: the "fair, reasoned, knowledgeable" chairman she watched lead a joint congressional investigation into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, or the partisan who has since been making "highly charged" comments on behalf of the Bush administration.
More than half the panel's Democrats said they were waiting until next week to say whether they will support Goss' confirmation. No one has promised publicly so far to vote against him.
With Republican control of the Senate, congressional aides say they expect Goss to win approval. Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has indicated he wants the Senate to vote on the nomination as early as next week.
If confirmed, Goss would take over the agency just months after the CIA's last director, George Tenet, shocked some on the Sept. 11 commission by saying it would take five years to install the kind of clandestine service needed to deal with international terrorism. Tenet blamed the situation on tight budgets after the Cold War.
Goss, however, said Tuesday it would take more than five years to train and place all the clandestine operatives the CIA needs. "I don't believe five is enough," Goss said. "It's a long build-out, a long haul. It's been started. "
In his testimony, Goss also outlined a series of commonly cited priorities for the U.S. intelligence community. They included improving human intelligence and analytic capabilities, expanding intelligence sharing with state and local law enforcement agencies and enhancing foreign language capabilities.
A former Army intelligence and CIA clandestine officer, Goss would assume at a tumultuous time the helm of the CIA and the post's dual role as head of the 14 other agencies in the U.S. intelligence community.
At the Sept. 11 commission's recommendation, Congress and the White House are considering separating Goss' would-be position into two jobs -- a CIA director and a national intelligence director. The commission said the latter position should be empowered with budget and personnel authority over the nation's spy networks.
Goss said Tuesday he believes the authority to control budgets for foreign intelligence should be consolidated in a central office. But if confirmed, he said, he will "play the cards that are dealt to me on this subject."
Bush has endorsed giving the new national intelligence director budgetary authority, but not all the powers the commission suggested. Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry has endorsed adopting the commission's 40-plus recommendations in their entirety.
Even as Goss focused on substantive intelligence issues Tuesday, Democrats repeatedly returned to sometimes terse exchanges about whether Goss could be an independent and nonpolitical CIA chief.
The panel's top Democrat, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, admonished Goss for his criticism of Kerry, including a March op-ed piece he co-authored titled "Need Intelligence? Don't Ask John Kerry." Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said that Goss, as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence from 1996 until August, was insufficiently committed to intelligence reform.
Feinstein also asked Goss about comments he made to The Associated Press about the prison abuse scandal in Iraq. During a May interview, Goss called ongoing Senate investigations "a circus."
"What you're saying by that comment is certainly a lack of respect not only for this committee, but this body," Feinstein said.
Goss said the comment was directed toward the "media frenzy" that was going on over the pictures of abuse at the now-infamous Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. "It was lighthearted jesting about our rivalries that go back and forth on the Hill," he said.
Goss also backed away from a controversial provision he included in an intelligence reform bill in June to loosen long-standing restrictions on the agency's ability to operate inside the United States.
"I do not believe that foreign intelligence apparatus should be used domestically," he said.