"Porter Goss has always been an avid supporter of intelligence," said James L. Pavitt, who retired last week as the CIA's deputy director of operations. "If he comes in with the intent to make intelligence better and to build on the efforts we've already made . . . I think the building will get behind him. It is critically important we have a director leading the place now."
At the same time, many intelligence experts believe that Goss is partly responsible for the shortcomings of the intelligence community, given his role as chairman of the House oversight committee. "Our oversight is broken," said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), vice chairman of the panel.
Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), left, has won the support of Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.). The two co-chaired the joint House-Senate panel that in 2002 investigated the Sept. 11 attacks.
(Ken Lambert -- AP)
Video: President Bush, nominating Rep. Porter J. Goss to head the CIA, said he is "the right man to lead this important agency at this critical moment in our nation's history."
John MacGaffin, the CIA's former number two at the Directorate of Operations and a senior FBI adviser, said: "He's better qualified than anyone else around today. At the same time, he's also part of the problem; that is, all the things the 9/11 commission chronicled went on during his watch and came as no surprise to him. The question is, when push comes to shove, can he avoid politicization and move forward on the changes?"
As intelligence committee chairman, Goss managed oversight of the CIA's budget, its performance in the field, the accuracy of its intelligence estimates, and its counterterrorism and covert operations. The agency's failures are to some extent the failures of the oversight committees, which because of secrecy demands conduct much of their work without public scrutiny.
Goss has acknowledged the need for change. "The way the intelligence business has expanded, given what we are confronted with, I'm sorry to say, but the days of a handful of people" overseeing intelligence "are gone," Goss told The Washington Post in an interview this spring.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), said the question for Congress "is how Mr. Goss used his front-row seat as chairman of the House intelligence committee to make this country safer over the last seven years."
"In my view, the answer to that question will offer a valuable indication as to how Mr. Goss would protect Americans as the director of central intelligence," Wyden said.
Some intelligence experts said yesterday that they consider Goss too close to the agency to become an effective leader in a time of change.
Former CIA director Stansfield Turner, who served in the Democratic Carter administration, called Goss's nomination, "the worst . . . in the history of the job."
"To put somebody who is so highly partisan in this job will further diminish public confidence in our intelligence," Turner said.
Goss was not always seen as a partisan on intelligence matters.
On the unusual joint House-Senate panel that in 2002 investigated the Sept. 11 attacks, Goss fought aggressively with the White House and the intelligence community over access to information.
"He would always tell me, 'We are going to follow the facts wherever they lead,' " said Eleanor Hill, executive director of the joint inquiry, the first to expose the deep problems in the intelligence community. "He was extremely helpful to me. He pushed on declassification. We got a lot of push-back from the intelligence community, and he wasn't intimidated by them."
Goss's tenacity won him the respect, and now the endorsement, of Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who co-chaired the joint inquiry with him and first appointed him to a Florida county commission seat in 1983.
"He helped keep a potentially divisive, partisan circumstance under control," Graham said. "He worked hard to see the Republicans and Democrats on this committee were kept in the loop. . . . He's an independent person by nature and understands what has to be done to modernize the community."
Staff writers Helen Dewar and Walter Pincus contributed to this report.