John G. Tower, the former senator who couldn't pass muster to be secretary of defense, is about to be named chairman of a secretive intelligence advisory board to President Bush.
Our sources say that in two months or less, Tower will take over the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, called "piffy-ab" for its acronym, PFIAB.
Bush put the Texas Republican on the board last year as a consolation prize after the Senate refused to give him the job he really wanted, secretary of defense. He does not need Senate confirmation to be chairman of PFIAB, so the questions of womanizing, drinking and conflicts of interest that dogged him through the Senate hearing will not find a public forum this time.
But some White House officials have raised objections, noting that Tower would continue to work as a consultant for government contractors while he has access to national security secrets as a member of the board.
PFIAB has been around in one form or another since the Eisenhower administration, although Jimmy Carter disbanded it during his term. It exists to advise the president on the quality of intelligence he is getting from various U.S. spy agencies. The board technically does not oversee those agencies, but it second-guesses their work and suggests ways they can do a better job.
The elevation of Tower to chairman is something Bush has wanted to do for a long time. Bush inherited most of the current members of PFIAB from Ronald Reagan, but he hasn't made much use of the board and is ready for a purge.
Knowledgeable White House sources tell us that Bush is eager to replace everyone on the board except his good friend Tower. Our sources predict it will happen in June, or later if FBI background checks on the appointees drag on.
Ironically, many of the current members are closer to Bush than Reagan, including the chairwoman, Anne Armstrong, an old Texas buddy of Bush's. In 1985, when Reagan streamlined his PFIAB from 21 to 14 members, some Reaganites complained that the members who survived the cut had closer ties to Bush.
Bush's reluctance to use PFIAB and his restlessness to restructure it with Tower at the helm may have something to do with his days as director of the Central Intelligence Agency during the Ford administration. Gerald Ford's PFIAB decided that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were underestimating the Soviet threat.
The Ford PFIAB set up two teams to analyze that threat -- the "A Team" from inside the CIA and the "B Team" made up of outside consultants. The B Team rated the Soviets as a more powerful threat than the CIA had assumed, and Bush eventually adopted that point of view to drive the CIA. But he received plenty of grief from the rank-and-file CIA members who already thought he was a political hack and didn't like being told what to do by outsiders.
In addition to being driven by somewhat sour memories of PFIAB, Bush now wants a smaller board made up of intelligence experts instead of the mixed bag of academicians, business people and consultants.