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Bush Tabs Goss For CIA's Top Spot

President Bush speaks in the Rose Garden, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2004, along with Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., left, after he picked Goss, head of the House intelligence committee, to be the new director of the CIA. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
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President Bush has nominated Rep. Porter Goss, chairman of the House intelligence committee and a former CIA officer, to be the new director of the CIA.

Mr. Bush announced the selection of the 65-year-old Goss at an appearance in the Rose Garden attended by the Florida Republican.

"He is well prepared for this mission," the president said. "He's the right man to lead and support the agency at this critical moment in our nation's history."

Goss had been mentioned prominently in speculation about a successor to departed CIA Director George Tenet, who left amid a torrent of criticism of the agency's handling of prewar intelligence on Iraq.

"Porter Goss has built a reputation as a reformer," the president said. "He'll be a reformer at the CIA."

It was thought that Mr. Bush might delay an appointment until after the election in order to avoid a congressional rehash of the faulty intelligence that preceded the war in Iraq.

Goss's nomination must be approved by the Senate.

Mr. Bush's decision also comes in the wake of the president's embrace of a key recommendation of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks: creation of a new intelligence czar to oversee the activities of the CIA and more than a dozen other intelligence agencies.

"I think every American knows the importance of getting the best possible intelligence we can get to our decision-makers," Goss said during the Rose Garden announcement.

Speaking last week of the pleas for change by the 9/11 commission, Goss had said "we cannot afford to make changes blindly or in an unnecessary haste. We can ill-afford to rush to judgment any more than we can tolerate needless delay."

Although Goss was among the leading candidates mentioned when Tenet announced his resignation earlier this year, there had been some recent speculation that his prospects had dimmed, due at least in part to the unavoidable controversies that surround a leading player in Congress.

Tenet's last day was July 11, and the much-criticized agency since then has been under the leadership of acting Director John McLaughlin.

The administration was believed to have debated internally whether to choose a permanent successor to Tenet before the fall elections, thus putting itself in the position of having to defend its choice in confirmation hearings held in a politically charged atmosphere.

Pending confirmation, Goss is poised to take over the agency at a pivotal moment.

Leaders of various intelligence agencies worry about a series of high-profile events this summer that could become attractive terrorist targets. It is widely believed that al Qaeda and its allies might try to strike the United States in a way that replicates the political and economic impact of March's train bombings in Madrid, Spain.

The Connecticut-born Goss graduated from Yale in 1960 and launched a clandestine career, working for Army intelligence for two years and eventually the CIA's most well-known division, the Directorate of Operations.

When he got into politics, Goss had to get special permission to reveal that he was associated with "the agency" for roughly a decade, reportedly in Europe and Latin America. Goss still doesn't discuss classified details of his work, although he has said he was deployed in Miami during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

"I had some very interesting moments in the Florida Straits," Goss told The Washington Post in 2002.

In the early 1970s, an almost deadly staph infection forced him to retire to Sanibel, Fla., where retired CIA officers who had made the coastal community their home had convinced him to come for recovery. Each day, he tried to walk to the ocean as part of his rehabilitation.

Gradually, he stepped into local politics and ran for the House in 1988.

Goss has served in Congress for 16 years, including eight years as House Intelligence chairman. He planned on making his 2000 election bid his last, but decided to stay on after the Sept. 11 attacks — with encouragement from Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. The opportunity was sweetened when Republicans waived a rule limiting his chairmanship to six years.

Along with fellow Floridian, Democratic Sen. Bob Graham, then the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Goss led an joint congressional inquiry into the attacks, which identified numerous miscalculations that prevented authorities from derailing the attacks.

With his well-placed experience, Washington insiders have speculated for some time that he could take over as director of central intelligence, overseeing the CIA and 14 other agencies that make up the intelligence community. Only one CIA director was also a member of Congress: former President George H.W. Bush.