Keep Politics Out of CIA, Says Leahy

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(Host) Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy says he wants assurances that President Bush’s pick to head the C-I-A will be able to keep politics out of the nation’s top intelligence post.

The Senate must confirm the nomination of Porter Goss to run the C-I-A. Leahy says confirmation is likely, but not before some tough questions are asked.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Porter Goss is a former CIA agent and Florida Republican who chaired the House Intelligence Committee.

The Senate confirmation hearing will begin in September. Leahy says Goss needs to show that he can provide unvarnished advice that is free from partisan politics.

(Leahy) “I think that’s a question Congressman Goss is going to be asked: Are you willing to set aside your label as a partisan Republican and pledge that you’ll give, whether it’s a Democratic of Republican president, that you’ll give very honest, very thorough intelligence, even if it’s intelligence the president might not want. And I’m going to be anxious to hear his answer on that.”

(Dillon) Leahy says he knows Goss to be an intelligent and honest person. But he says he has concerns about legislation that Goss introduced that would allow the C-I-A to become a domestic spying agency.

(Leahy) “That would be a mistake. The temptation would be too great for whoever is president to use the CIA to go after his political enemies. So I’m going to want to talk with him about that.”

(Dillon) Senate Democrats, who are in the minority, could block the nomination through a filibuster. But Leahy predicts that Goss will be confirmed. He says it was a mistake, however, for President Bush to highlight the appointment in a recent campaign swing through Florida.

(Leahy) “I think that rubbed a lot of people in the intelligence community, both Republicans and Democrats, rubbed them the wrong way. It sort of looked like the president saying, ‘I’m going to make a political plum out of the CIA director’s position.’ That would be just like saying, ‘I’m going to make political plum out of the FBI director’s position.’ You can’t do that. These are areas that have to stay out of politics.”?

(Dillon) Goss’s nomination comes as Congress begins to consider the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission.

The panel has proposed the creation of an overall intelligence czar who would oversee the entire military and civilian intelligence bureaucracy.

Leahy says he supports the proposal but wants guarantees that the new post would not be under White House political control.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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