Scooter Libby’s Revenge

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The New York Sun

Count us among those who aren’t shedding any tears over the departure of Porter Goss as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. When Mr. Goss was nominated back in August of 2004, we wrote that that he “has shown precious little evidence so far of being the right man for the job.” At the time, we questioned Mr. Goss’s bona fides in the area of personnel management, and we breasted a fair amount of acrimony from friends who thought we were overly harsh.

Now Mr. Goss has borne out precisely those concerns. He elevated as executive director of the CIA Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, who reportedly attended poker games at a hotel with a figure in the Randy “Duke” Cunningham scandal. Under Mr. Goss’s leadership, the CIA was leakier than a sieve that had been used for target practice. To the extent that President Bush ushered Mr. Goss out over that issue, he was doing himself and the agency a favor.

Quite an opposition is stirring against one man reported as a possible successor to Mr. Goss, General Michael Hayden. The fear mentioned by the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra, as well as by Senators Chambliss, Biden, and Feinstein, is that a general as director of central intelligence would give the Pentagon, or the military, too much control over a civilian function.

That concern strikes us as misplaced in this case. General Hayden, if he is to become director of the CIA, would still have civilian bosses in the president and in the director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, and he’d still be accountable as a matter of oversight to the civilians on the Senate and House intelligence committees. What’s more, there’s a bipartisan history of military involvement in the CIA leadership. Admiral William Studeman served as acting director in the early 1990s. Admiral Stansfield Turner was director during the Carter administration. General Vernon Walters was acting director for a period in 1973.

Other officials had military background – directors of central intelligence Richard Helms and William Casey were in the naval reserve. The deputy director of the CIA from 1997 to 2000 was an Air Force general, John Gordon. At the legendary peak during World War II, American intelligence, in the form of the Office of Strategic Services, was part of the military and run by New York’s own William “Wild Bill” Donovan, an army general. The OSS was the predecessor of the CIA.

There will be a temptation by some in Congress – both Democrats seeking political advantage and Republicans seeking to distance themselves from a president lagging in the polls – to use the confirmation hearings as a way to revisit all the supposed failures of the Bush administration in the war on terror. It hasn’t been a perfect record. But the fact that the American mainland has not been successfully attacked since September 11, 2001, or, depending on one’s assessment, the anthrax attacks that followed, is at least an indication that Mr. Bush’s strategy of taking the fight to the enemy has been an overall success so far.

The concern about military officers playing a leading role in intelligence, moreover, strike us as particularly hollow in the current context. The big scandal at the moment is the way the intelligence community has been operating against the elected president. The Wall Street Journal, in a devastating editorial last month, called it “Our Rotten IntelligenCIA.” It cited the Wilson-Plame scandal and the book by Michael Scheuer, a couter-terrorism analyst who, as the Journal put it, “was allowed by the CIA to publish under ‘Anonymous’ a scathing attack on Mr. Bush’s strategy to fight terror.” Then there is the case of the official the CIA fired for allegedly leaking to Dana Priest of the Washington Post.

There are many pro-freedom pundits around the country who are going to point out that Porter Goss was trying gamely to end that kind of activity. But the sad fact is that it continued on his watch. Nor do we credit the argument advanced by some, including the editor of the Weekly Standard, William Kristol, that the ouster of Mr. Goss is a sign that President Bush won’t stand by his appointees when they run into opposition from the bureaucracy. Mr. Bush’s backing of Secretary Rumsfeld over calls for his ouster emanating from Mr. Kristol and some retired generals undercuts that argument.

Mr. Goss’s departure doesn’t seem to us as a case of Mr. Bush siding with the CIA careerists against Mr. Goss; it seems to us like Mr. Bush siding with his appointees Mssrs. Rumsfeld and Negroponte against Mr. Goss, particularly on the matter of giving the Pentagon rather than the CIA primary responsibility for covert operations. It’s a further attempt by Mr. Bush to rein in an agency that, while it includes many honorable, even courageous, public servants, nevertheless appeared at times to be resisting the president’s agenda.

One could even call it Scooter Libby’s Revenge. Not that Mr. Libby had anything to do with the decision to fire Mr. Goss. But if it’s a sign that Mr. Bush has realized he’s being sand-bagged by his own intelligence agency, we’re happy to name the episode for the aide to the vice president who was ousted in the Plame-Wilson scandal. Given the challenges on the horizon – Iran, a Hamas-controlled West Bank and Gaza, communist China growing into an economic superpower – the need for effective intelligence is great. Congress would do the nation a favor were it to restraint itself from indulging in its usual grandstanding and move quickly to help Mr. Bush fill the vacancy at the CIA.

The New York Sun

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