The chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), said confirmation hearings on the nomination of Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) as CIA director will be held the first week in September, but Roberts joined a key House panel chairman yesterday in questioning whether Congress will move to overhaul U.S. intelligence agencies before the November election.
Roberts said he and his panel's vice chairman, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), agreed to expedite consideration of Goss, who was nominated Tuesday by President Bush to take over as director of central intelligence after the retirement of George J. Tenet.
"I think he will be confirmed," Roberts said in an appearance on NBC's "Today" show. Goss, who was a CIA case officer before he became a politician, met yesterday with the CIA's acting director, John E. McLaughlin.
The Senate panel's quick attention could result in Goss's confirmation as CIA director before Congress recesses in October -- a relatively fast pace that congressional leaders said is unlikely to apply to consideration of the complicated legislative proposals to remake the intelligence community.
The Sept. 11 commission has proposed the appointment of a new national intelligence director who would outrank the CIA director and oversee all 15 government agencies that collect and analyze intelligence. The commission also urged the creation of a national counterterrorism center to coordinate intelligence analysis and operations government-wide, domestically and abroad. President Bush has endorsed the proposed center and the new director's position but is reluctant to give the new chief budgetary and personnel power over the CIA and intelligence offices at the Pentagon and other agencies.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) opened a hearing on intelligence reform yesterday with a cautionary note: "I think what we have to do is just make sure we get this thing right."
In an apparent reaction to calls Tuesday for quick action from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other Democrats, Hunter said, "If we allow a rush to judgment to be dictated by the need to simply get this done during the election cycle, then I think we're going to make ourselves more vulnerable and cause the nation more harm."
Yesterday's hearing marked the second consecutive day the House panel questioned Pentagon officials on proposals to restructure intelligence services. The officials say they want to ensure that any intelligence reform does not interfere with the ability of troops to carry out their missions.
At Tuesday's hearing, the chairman and vice chairman of the Sept. 11 commission, Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, testified that their proposals are aimed at creating more coordination among government agencies and would not impair the Pentagon's tactical operations.
Yesterday, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen A. Cambone told the House Armed Services Committee that the Pentagon is moving "with all deliberate speed, but this is hard stuff and it's important stuff and it's important to the entire country that we get this one right."
He said the White House and other agencies have not finalized their views on how a new national intelligence director, or NID, would play a role distinct from that of the president's national security adviser, or how the new chief would relate to the defense secretary.
"When the president completes his review and decides how he wants to do this, there's not going to be ambiguity in these relationships," Cambone said.
Roberts indicated that Goss's confirmation would be easier to accomplish than getting congressional approval for the establishment of the new intelligence director's position. "Regardless of whether you have what's called a NID . . . you're going to have to have somebody run the CIA," he said.
Cambone described to the House panel several key intelligence roles within the Pentagon -- and carried in the Defense Department's budget -- that he believes should remain there instead of migrating to the purview of a new national intelligence director. They included intelligence operations that directly serve commanders in the field and are primarily under Defense Department control.
He also highlighted the importance to military commanders of intelligence tools such as unmanned aerial vehicles that intercept electronic communications, which are run jointly with the CIA, and the very costly "combat support elements," such as the electronic intercepting activities of the National Security Agency, where the CIA director has a partnership role with the defense secretary.
Asked how the Pentagon would react if those agencies were turned over to a national intelligence director, Cambone posed a question of his own: "What problem do we create, and can we resolve it in a way that we're happy?" He added, "If not, then we need to back up a little bit and reconsider."
He said the relationship between the director of central intelligence and the secretary of defense has been worked out over years and "cannot be undone or disturbed." If there is a national intelligence director placed above the CIA and the Defense Department in the bureaucratic hierarchy, Cambone said, the new chief's relationship with the defense secretary "will be up to Congress and the president" to carefully sketch out.
"Few choices are risk-free," he added. "We need to be certain we know and accept the risks we may create as we move to address those we know we face."