Thursday, July 15, 2004

Politics aside, CIA needs director soon

Politics aside, CIA needs director soon

With a war on, the Central Intelligence Agency needs strong leadership and major reform. The president and the Senate should move as fast as possible to replace George Tenet.

Published by on July 15, 2004
Confirming a new CIA director may be controversial in an election year, but the president and the Senate should fill this job ASAP.

With an acting director in George Tenet’s place, the nation’s premier intelligence agency can’t afford to be without a leader for six months. For one thing, confirming a new CIA director probably won’t be any less contentious after the November elections.

But there is a more important reason: the nation is at war in Iraq and against a nebulous network of terrorists supposedly plotting a follow-up to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Federal officials are ringing the alarm bells about possible terrorist attacks aimed at disrupting this year’s elections.

This situation demands that the politicians in Washington rise above partisanship for the good of the country. Such a sentiment sounds naive, but if it is in fact, then we’re in real trouble.

It would be unwise and unnecessary to try to weather the rest of this year without a permanent director in place at the CIA. Flaws in U.S. intelligence-gathering are only too evident, and the repair work can’t wait for calmer political weather.

Even if reforms are already under way, the agency needs a boss in place with bipartisan support and a long-term commitment to change regardless of which party controls the White House or Congress, now or after November.


Tenet’s departure was announced over a month ago and anticipated longer than that. It shouldn’t take much longer to settle on a competent reform figure who can command wide respect and support.

We think our own congressman, Porter Goss, R-Sanibel, would be a good choice. But despite his unquestioned intelligence, character and expertise, he may face opposition as too “political” or too close to the agency he once worked for to implement sweeping reforms. Since he has been advocating sweeping reforms for years, that seems a dubious objection, but it may scuttle him in a situation that demands a consensus choice.

Others who have been mentioned include Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage and former Navy Secretary John Lehman, a member of the commission investigating Sept. 11.

This crucial decision won’t be free of partisanship, but it would be a chance for our leaders to rise above party, and recapture some of the unity we enjoyed in the dark days after Sept. 11


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