"I have made a commitment to nonpartisanship," retiring Rep. Porter Goss, a Florida Republican, told the Senate Intelligence Committee. He conceded that during his 16 years in Congress he may — "at times" — have engaged in debate with too much vigor.
"Rest assured, however, I understand completely the difference in obligations the position of (director of central intelligence) carries with it and that which the role of a congressman carries," said Goss, who formerly chaired the House Intelligence Committee.
The CIA's last director, George Tenet, earlier this year told the Sept. 11 commission that it would take five years to have in place the kind of clandestine service needed to deal with international terrorism and other threats.
Without being specific, Goss said Tuesday that it would take longer to hire train and place all the operatives that are needed. The good news, he said, is that some would be ready soon. But "it is a long build-out."
Goss also backed away from a controversial provision he included in an intelligence reform bill in June, which would have loosened long-standing restrictions on the agency's ability to operate inside the United States.
He said he was trying to start a debate then on an important issue — the blurring of the lines between foreign and domestic intelligence. As the CIA's director, he said he would come to policymakers for guidance on intelligence and law enforcement capabilities.
Goss' political past came up at the outset of his confirmation hearing Tuesday. The Senate panel's senior Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, questioned whether Goss displayed a willingness to use intelligence issues as "a political broadsword" against Democratic lawmakers.
"Having reviewed your record closely, I have a number of concerns about whether your past partisan actions and statements will allow you to be the type of nonpartisan, independent and objective national intelligence adviser our country needs," Rockefeller said.
As recently as this summer, Goss criticized Kerry's voting record on intelligence. The Washington Post has reported that Goss in 1995 actually supported deeper cuts to the intelligence budget than Kerry did.
Last October, explaining why he did not want to launch an investigation of a White House official's possibly illegal leaking of a CIA officer's name to the press, Goss made reference to the Clinton impeachment saga.
"Somebody sends me a blue dress and some DNA, I'll have an investigation," Goss said.
In his testimony, Goss outlined a series of commonly cited priorities for the U.S. intelligence community. They included improving human intelligence and analytic capabilities, expanding intelligence sharing with state and local law enforcement agencies and enhancing foreign language capabilities at the CIA.
Tenet resigned as head of the CIA in June, just before the intelligence committee and the Sept. 11 commission released reports criticizing the agency's performance during much of his tenure.
While Goss has vocal critics in the Senate, no one so far has said that they will vote against him, and congressional aides say they expect Goss will win approval. Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, has indicated he wants the Senate to vote on the nomination as soon as next week.
Some critics have questioned whether Goss, a CIA operative in Europe and Latin America for roughly a decade, may be too cozy with the agency to carry out widespread reforms. They also note that he had congressional oversight during the intelligence failures of the last few years.
Goss rejects suggestions that he can't be a balanced critic, and his allies say his experience makes him well-suited for the job. After announcing the nomination, Mr. Bush said Goss "knows the CIA inside and out. He's the right man to lead this important agency at this critical moment in our nation's history."
A former Army intelligence and CIA clandestine officer, Goss would also assume the post's dual role as head of the 14 other agencies in the U.S. intelligence community at a tumultuous time.
The Sept. 11 commission called for separating the two jobs and empowering a new national intelligence director with budget and personnel authority over all of the nation's spy network. The commission said the terrorists exploited deep institutional failings within the U.S. government.
Mr. Bush has endorsed giving the new director budgetary authority but not all of the powers that the commission suggested. Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry has endorsed adopting the commission's 40-plus recommendations in their entirety.