DAN K. THOMASSON Goss would revive art of spying
WASHINGTON --Those who consider Rep. Porter Goss too "old school" to run the CIA are missing the point entirely. What the agency has needed for some time is a more old-fashioned approach to spying when cloak-and-dagger meant just that and not an exercise in technological analysis.
It is true the Florida Republican's extensive experience dates back to the days when the Cold War was waged primarily by the "company's" elite covert-operations division. He has conceded that his personal skills as an agent in clandestine services are probably not suited for today's intelligence-gathering needs. A working knowledge of Eastern languages, for instance, isn't terribly useful in dealing with Middle Eastern Muslim cultures.
What he does bring to the post, however, is an understanding that intelligence gathering can't be limited to spy satellites and electronic interceptions of bits and pieces of conversation. As perhaps never before, it requires a human infiltration and understanding of the families that produce the radicals bent on wreaking havoc on world democracies. To be successful in the struggle against terrorism, "in-country" teams and networks that always have been the stuff of CIA legend must be re-created and refitted to deal with fanatics fed on theocratic fundamentalism.
Returning in some ways to its roots won't be easy for an agency that has been hammered for nearly 30 years by adverse publicity that spotlighted mistakes and led to a devastating dismantling of its ability to function on a human level where prying electronics can't reach. No one understood this better than William (Wild Bill) Donovan, who originally proposed the CIA's creation as a successor to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which he ran so well during World War II. He believed that putting human beings in the midst of the nation's enemies was the only way to ensure the early warnings necessary to avoid a tragedy.
The real assault on the CIA's covert-ops section began in the mid-1970s, when a Democratic senator from Idaho, Frank Church, began public hearings to air all the agency's dirty laundry dating from its inception in 1947. The "investigation," which was exploited by the nation's chief intelligence rivals, such as the Soviet Union, stimulated public indignation and nearly destroyed the CIA, causing a series of political earthquakes. These aftershocks resulted in the utter downgrading of its human network in favor of nice, clean electronic spying during the administration of Jimmy Carter. Clandestine services were so wrecked that by the 1980s its agents who had ruled the Langley, Va., roost for years couldn't even locate hostages kidnapped and held in Lebanon by Iranian fanatics. And as we have seen, the lack of experts and assets in and around the Middle East has resulted in a string of tragedies.
Goss' expertise comes out of this experience. Most importantly, he has witnessed firsthand from both practical and political points what can happen when there is too little flesh and blood in the counterintelligence process. His practical service both in military intelligence and the CIA and his political experience in Congress as head of the House Intelligence Committee give him a hard-to-match knowledge of what is necessary. Whether Goss will have the time to have much impact will be up to voters in November, of course. Although Democrats say they won't try to block his confirmation in the Senate, they can be expected to use the hearings to further exploit CIA problems. As a staunch and vocal supporter of George W. Bush's re-election, Goss should not expect to remain in the CIA post much past inauguration day if John Kerry wins.
Even if Bush is re-elected, there still is the question of the 9/11 commission's recommendations for a major CIA overhaul and the appointment of a director of central intelligence with independent powers. Bush has endorsed the new DCI recommendation and has indicated he would not object to compromising his initial opposition to giving the Cabinet-level position budgetary authority over the intelligence operations of both the CIA and FBI. A Bush re-election might result in Goss' receiving that appointment.
Whatever occurs, Goss has the "old school" instincts that have been missing.
X Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.