Is Goss Aiming Higher?

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Now that President Bush has thrown his support behind the 9/11 commission's proposal to empower a new intelligence chief to oversee most of the nation's intelligence operations, attention this week will focus on the man who has been nominated for the job it would supersede: director of the CIA. Yet Porter Goss, the Florida Congressman nominated by President Bush last month after the resignation of George Tenet, may well be auditioning for the bigger job too. Many Republicans and intelligence hands believe Bush is likely to promote Goss to the new post of national intelligence director if it is created. Indeed, that may be a reason why Goss is willing to run the Senate gauntlet for a job that could soon be stripped of much authority. "I can't imagine he would be a party to a job that isn't going to last very long or is going to have a new boss put on top of him," said a senior intelligence official.

Senate Democrats, many of whom initially opposed the Republican Congressman's nomination, don't expect to go in for the kill during this week's hearings, as they see little chance of derailing Goss's candidacy. But they plan to question him on such matters as what reforms he feels the CIA needs and whether his experience as a former CIA officer and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee equips him to manage the $40 billion intelligence community. They are also likely to ask him about a controversial reform bill that Goss floated in June that would have allowed the CIA to conduct some police operations inside the U.S.

Goss, who has spent several days at CIA headquarters studying for the hearing, could also be grilled on what some Democrats regard as his committee's lax oversight of intelligence matters — failing to correct problems that, according to the 9/11 commission and other investigations, may have paved the way for 9/11 and intelligence mistakes on Iraq. But that line of questioning could backfire. Goss and his defenders could point out that, whatever shortcomings Goss's committee can be accused of in the years leading up to 9/11 and the Iraq war, the same could be said of the Senate intelligence panel questioning him.