Remember the Goss Era?

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When a major announcement comes on Friday afternoon, you can be pretty sure it’s going to be bad news. And so it went last Friday, when President Bush had a televised chat with CIA chief Porter Goss to announce his surprise resignation from the post, without a successor or even a storyline in sight.

Immediately following the announcement, the talking heads on the television news channels scrambled to make sense of the move, with CNN speculating whether Goss's departure might be part of Josh Bolten's “shake up” in the Bush administration. After stumbling around in the darkness it began to dawn on some of the brighter lights that Goss had been linked to the Randy “Duke” Cunningham bribe scandal and that Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, who Goss tapped to be the agency’s executive director (and who also resigned Monday), was even more deeply involved in Cunningham’s crooked dealings. Josh Marshall’s “TPM Muckraker” blog has been out front on this story since the get-go (unlike much of the rest of the media). Much of the mainstream media only began to recognize this angle by mid-week.

The Goss story has rightly been all over the news since Friday, but several salient points appear to have slipped through the cracks. The worst thing a reporter can call a story is “history,” but Goss’s history is only 18 months old. And it reflects yet another fundamental failure of Bush’s strategy to run the government according to what most of us recognize as reality — rather than his own political and ideological obsessions.

Already forgotten, for instance, in the MSM coverage was the unabashedly partisan fashion in which Goss ran the CIA. The New York Times reported back in November 2004 that, amazingly, Goss “told Central Intelligence Agency employees that their job is to ‘support the administration and its policies in our work.’” In a memo sent out to agency employees, Goss laid his cards on the table, continuing, "As agency employees we do not identify with, support or champion opposition to the administration or its policies." He sent the note out in order to "clarify beyond doubt the rules of the road."

What’s more, when serving as a Republican congressman from Florida in June 2004, just months before being nominated by the president to head the CIA, Goss took to the House floor to bash the Democratic party on intelligence issues, saying that in the 1990s, “The Democratic party did not support the intelligence community.” In March 2004, he also co-authored an op-ed in the Tampa Tribune accusing “some in the Clinton White House and the Democrat-controlled Congress” of failing to fund one of “their least favorite organizations: the Central Intelligence Agency.”

On top of this, he showed the partisan nature of his intelligence concerns, telling Florida’s Herald Tribune in October 2003 that he was against a Congressional investigation looking into who leaked CIA operative Valerie Plame’s name to the press. According to the paper, Goss said that the case "doesn't yet merit an investigation by the House Select Committee on Intelligence, which he chairs … 'Somebody sends me a blue dress and some DNA, I'll have an investigation.'"

Goss’s hyper-partisanship continued right through his tenure at the CIA. Not only did he send out the memo admonishing CIA staffers to stick to a partisan script, but according to an excellent investigative piece in the November ’05 American Prospect, Robert Dreyfuss reported that, “Without a doubt, Goss’ team is the most highly partisan ever to run the CIA. The ex-HPSCI [Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence] staffers were notorious for taking a Republican Party-oriented stance on many issues, especially [Patrick] Murray, who once tried to get classified information released so it could be used against the Democrats.”

Dreyfuss interviewed Chas W. Freeman, a former assistant secretary of defense and U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who told him that Goss was trying to institute a “totalitarian” culture at the agency. As a result, “we are going to end up with an agency that is more right-wing, more conformist, and less prone to produce people with original views and dissenters,” he added.

Similarly, The New Republic’s Spencer Ackerman wrote Monday that Goss “ended up falling victim to the same trap [former CIA chief George] Tenet did: being unable to serve President Bush while faithfully leading the CIA. Tenet's approach was to appease Bush where it mattered (Iraq, most notably) in order to preserve the CIA's tenuous bureaucratic position. Goss's approach was to act as Bush's enforcer while calling it reform. In the end, Goss couldn't satisfy Bush and he had no allies left in the agency he ostensibly led.”

It’s not as if such stories exist only in the liberal imagination. Newsday reported back in November 2004 that “The White House has ordered the new CIA director, Porter Goss, to purge the agency of officers believed to have been disloyal to President George W. Bush or of leaking damaging information to the media about the conduct of the Iraq war and the hunt for Osama bin Laden, according to knowledgeable sources.”

According to a former senior CIA official interviewed for the piece, "Goss was given instructions to get rid of those soft leakers and liberal Democrats.” “The CIA,” said the official, “is looked on by the White House as a hotbed of liberals and people who have been obstructing the president's agenda.”

On the other side of the coin, of course, are the rabidly pro-administration, Rupert Murdoch-funded mouthpieces in the media that hail all of this as good news. In an editorial in its latest issue, The Weekly Standard praises Goss for his fealty to the president, because “he is pro-Bush Doctrine,” and adding, the CIA “is broken. It has been for years. There is too much anti-Bush leaking and not enough creative thinking.” Opinions like this almost demand the injection of some levity into the debate.

Given all of the above, it should be surprising to no one that we have to rely on Jon Stewart, once again, to shed the most necessary light on this process. Through “the magic of TiVo,” Stewart’s staff of crack comedy writers shamed the national press by noticing, as none of them did, that Bush used the exact same words to nominate the catastrophic Porter Goss as he would to nominate Gen. Hayden: "He's the right man to lead the CIA at this critical moment in our nation's history."

Be very afraid…

Eric Alterman is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the author of six books. His most recent, When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences, is available in paperback from Penguin.

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Eric Alterman

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