The nomination of the Florida congressman, who had planned to retire after eight terms, was confirmed Wednesday by a vote of 77-17. A former CIA and Army intelligence officer during the 1960s, Goss would be only the second congressman to take over the helm of the CIA, following former President and House member George H.W. Bush.
Goss, 65, will lead an intelligence community that has faced intense criticism for failures prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and for its prewar estimates on Iraq. Yet defenders say the 15 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence network have become more focused and made changes to address international terrorism and other threats.
During six hours of debate, West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the senior Democrat on the intelligence panel, questioned whether Goss would be politically objective and outlined a series of attacks Goss has made on the Democratic Party and its presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry.
They included what Rockefeller considered unfair accusations from Goss that Kerry led the way to "deep and devastating" intelligence budget cuts in the 1990s.
Rockefeller said the law requires the director of central intelligence to provide timely and objective intelligence, independent of political considerations.
"Not surprisingly, one thing missing from Representative Goss's records are any public statements on intelligence critical of members of his own party or the administration," Rockefeller said. While Goss has promised not to be a partisan Republican as CIA director, "I must vote on his record. I cannot vote on his promise."
Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., rejected suggestions that Goss is too political and said he would be an appropriate intelligence chief during a tumultuous time. As Congress considers significant changes to the intelligence community's structure, Goss may be taking a job that soon won't exist, Roberts noted. Congress is considering creating a more expansive job of national intelligence director, and Goss has been named as a possibility for that post should it be created.
"Porter Goss's confirmation ... represents perhaps the most important changing of the guard for our intelligence community since 1947," when Congress created the CIA, Roberts said. "He will be the first director of central intelligence in a new, and hopefully better, intelligence community."
In addition to serving as CIA director, Goss will take on the job's dual role as head of a loose confederation of 14 other agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community.
Bush nominated Goss in August to replace former CIA Director George Tenet, who caught many by surprise in June when he announced he'd resign after seven years, serving two administrations.
Should Kerry be elected president, he would be expected to pick a different CIA director. Neither Kerry nor his running mate, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., voted on the confirmation.