The White House nominee for CIA director said yesterday that CIA analysts deserve a hotline to his office to ensure that there is no undue political pressure on their work, a charge that was made by some analysts and administration critics about the prewar assessment of Iraq.
"All I can suggest is that you put on the door the sign that says, 'If you think you're being pressured, or somebody's interfering with your product unduly, you are invited to call your friendly director,' " Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) told the Senate intelligence committee.
"If I'm confirmed, I do not want to be the person standing in front of the president of the United States or anybody even close to that rank with information that I do not have full confidence in," Goss said. "And I am not going to have full confidence in information that has been contaminated by policymaking."
The pledges to protect the integrity of U.S. intelligence work came during Goss's second and final confirmation hearing yesterday. After the war began, some analysts said they felt pressured as they assessed Iraq's weapons programs before the invasion. Congressional and CIA investigations into the matter found no evidence that analysts had colored judgments because of political pressure.
Goss also said he would put more analysts in the field so clandestine service operatives "can understand better what it is the analyst absolutely needs." He said analysts in different agencies still are not talking enough to one another on a range of subjects, from racketeering to political intelligence.
And he said the U.S. intelligence community still has not fully addressed the problem of "groupthink" -- failure by analysts working on the prewar assessment of Iraq to question the conventional wisdom that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. "This process is not going as well as I would like," he said. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the committee, said Goss's nomination will be voted on by the panel at a closed-door hearing today. It then will go to the full Senate, which could vote as early as today or Wednesday, said congressional sources, who expect both the panel and the full Senate to approve the nomination.
Roberts also said that he believes Goss would be the White House's choice for the elevated position of national intelligence director, a proposed new post under review by Congress. The director would oversee, manage and coordinate all 15 U.S. intelligence agencies.
During the 21/2-hour hearing, Goss also promised to correct any senior White House official who mischaracterizes intelligence in public. He said his personal intervention would likely be done in private.
Asked to name an instance in which an administration official mischaracterized intelligence in public statements, Goss replied: "I don't believe any public official in a position of responsibility has deliberately mischaracterized or misled anybody in the United States or anyplace else."
In response to later questioning, Goss said Vice President Cheney statement on Dec. 9, 2001, that Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta had gone to Prague to meet with an Iraqi intelligence officer was not "as well confirmed perhaps as the vice president thought." The CIA never reported it had credible evidence that the meeting occurred, although Cheney used it often in the months before the war as strong evidence to show a link between Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Is that a kind of statement that's worthy of correction when it's made publicly?" asked Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.).
"I would suggest that it probably is something -- in that case, it's a hypothetical -- but if I were confronted with that kind of a hypothetical, where I felt that a policymaker was getting beyond what the intelligence said, I think I would advise the person involved. . . . I do believe that would be a case that would put me into action if I were confirmed. Yes, sir."
Much of the hearing was taken up by Democratic senators questioning Goss's ability to switch from Republican politician to nonpartisan intelligence director. "How does one simply become a different person?" asked Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), vice chairman of the committee, holding two binders of Goss's public, partisan statements.
"If I didn't think I could do this, I wouldn't be sitting before you, because I feel just as strongly as you do about" keeping intelligence nonpartisan, Goss replied.
Roberts said Democratic senators who challenged Goss's partisanship because of statements he made as a Republican politician "are either very naive, very disingenuous or have their head lodged where there is not light." Speaking of those with reputations as partisan hacks on Capitol Hill, Roberts added: "This man is not part of that posse."
Near the close of the hearing, Goss apologized for the partisan statements made over his career.
"I'm guilty, too, as I have said, of slipping into some partisan comment in areas of national security. And I'm sorry that I have," he said.