Thursday, November 18, 2004

Politics and the C.I.A.

The New York Times
November 18, 2004

Politics and the C.I.A.

When President Bush rushed to appoint Porter Goss, a partisan Florida congressman, as director of central intelligence before the election, the choice raised concerns about how serious Mr. Bush was about fixing one of the central problems with American intelligence: that the president was being told what he wanted to hear to confirm his policy choices, rather than what he needed to know. Now that Mr. Bush has been safely re-elected, Mr. Goss is only heightening those fears.

No one who has read the 9/11 commission's report or the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the prewar intelligence on Iraq could doubt the need to shake things up in the intelligence apparatus. It's also important to allow the head of a major government agency to make changes without undue second-guessing. But what Mr. Goss is doing at the Central Intelligence Agency is starting to seem less like reform and more like a political purge.

Mr. Goss has removed the head of the clandestine operations division and his deputy - both career intelligence officers. The No. 2 C.I.A. official, John McLaughlin, has resigned, along with four other senior people. Others are reported to be thinking about leaving. Many of them feel trampled by Mr. Goss's inner circle of political operatives from the House, where he was chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

Now, Douglas Jehl of The Times has obtained a memo, circulated on Monday, in which Mr. Goss appeared to be signaling his displeasure with leaks about intelligence on Iraq during the presidential campaign. He reminded his staff twice that they work for a secret agency and said all dealings with the public and with Congress would be handled by his team.

He dutifully noted that the C.I.A.'s job is to "provide the intelligence as we see it - and let the facts speak to the policymaker." But Mr. Goss added language that has reportedly sent a chill through the intelligence agencies: "I also intend to clarify beyond doubt the rules of the road. We support the administration and its policies in our work. As agency employees we do not identify with, support or champion opposition to the administration or its policies."

Certainly, the C.I.A. should not be taking sides in presidential campaigns. Many of Mr. Bush's supporters claim that high-ranking members of the agency attempted to undermine the president's re-election - if Mr. Goss has evidence of that, he should present it. But it's inappropriate for him to suggest that it's the job of the C.I.A. "to support" a particular administration and its political decisions.

The C.I.A.'s loss of public credibility in recent years has been due, in part, to a perception that the agency saw how much the Bush administration wanted to invade Iraq and cooked its conclusions to support that goal. What the country wants, and deserves, is an agency where intelligence operatives feel free to tell the administration that policies are based on wrong or incomplete information. They should be able to blow the whistle on mistakes and wrongdoing to the appropriate bodies in Congress without having to go through Mr. Goss's palace guard.

Lawmakers who oversee intelligence have said they will ask Mr. Goss about these events. We hope that their questioning is aggressive and that they make it clear that what was acceptable politics on Capitol Hill is not acceptable at the C.I.A. - particularly if Mr. Bush plans to compound his mistake in choosing Mr. Goss by elevating him to the new job of national intelligence director when Congress finally gets around to creating that much-needed position.