Press Room: Interviews

National Intelligence

Melvin A. Goodman

Washington Post | 02-04-05

How is new CIA director Porter Goss shaking up the intelligence agency? Who is on the White House short list to become the new director of national intelligence? What kind of Homeland Security secretary would Michael Chertoff be if confirmed?

Former CIA analyst Mel Goodman discussed intelligence reform as well as the current state of the agency

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Mel Goodman: Good morning. We are at an important juncture for the CIA. Its budget and personnel structure has never been higher, but its integrity and credibility have never been lower. As a result, other agencies, such as the FBI and the Pentagon, are setting up competitive missions with the CIA, even in the area of covert action. This is very dangerous!! Also, the new director, Porter Goss, was clearly sent to the agency with a mission: get the intelligence analysts into line. Also dangerous!! Look forward to your questions and comments.

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Washington, D.C.: What is the morale of the CIA since Porter Goss has stepped in? Thanks

Mel Goodman: The morale at the agency is headed south....quickly. Tenet was very popular because of his strong personal skills. Goss has kept to himself and surrounded himself with a palace guard from the congress that is hostile to the agency in general and to many individuals specifically. Too many people have been driven out too quickly...and the agency will suffer as a result. There is need for reform, but Goss is tackling the wrong issues.

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Chicago, Ill.: Greetings,
I'm not sure if I can use the phrase "LA Times" in a family-friendly newspaper forum, but they had an interesting story last week Friday "FBI in Talks to Extend Reach."

The article indicated that the FBI wanted to accelerate foreign intelligence collecting.

Does the phrase "probably cause" mean something other than I thought? Would adding more data to a really lousy computer system make Americans safer?

washingtonpost.com: FBI in Talks to Extend Reach (LA Times, Jan. 28)

Mel Goodman: The FBI is extending its reach because it is exploiting the political weakness of the CIA. This feud goes back to 1947, when J.E. Hoover fought the creation of the CIA. The FBI needs serious monitoring; its computer capabilities are anachronistic (which contributed to the 9/11 tragedy); and its analytical capabilities are mediocre at best. Ironically, retired CIA analysts are now teaching techniques to new FBI analysts at their Quantico facility in Virginia. More potential problems.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Mr. Goodman,

What is your take on David Kay? The guy has the nerve to come back and blame the CIA for all the problems in Iraq? Is he for real? I guess since he no longer has to worry about his career at Langley it would make sense to please his political masters, but for pete's sake the CIA was the only crew that got it right. They had analysts very skeptical of Chalabi and of Iraq's weapons. They also provided the blueprints for President Bush to act on prior to 9/11. That is a lot better then anything I saw coming out of the Pentagon. What gives?

Mel Goodman: You are wrong about Kay. Kay went out to Iraq, leading a team of more than 1,000, believing that there was WMD to be found. He was disgusted when he found NOTHING. Remember the CIA estimate of October 2002 (the worst ever done) talked about large stocks of WMD and the estimate claimed "high confidence." Just a week or so ago, the agency published a classified memo, stating that all chem programs were stopped in 1991....and made no mention of previous errors that led us to war. The CIA is an analytical nightmare.

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Washington, D.C.: Isn't the fact that the new Intelligence Reform bill passed by the House and Senate last year includes a special provision that the first DNI appointed can be the current DCI, without Senate approval a signal that Porter Goss will be the choice? Isn't his purging of CIA analysts who oppose official doctrine indicative? The 9/11 Commission criticized the lack of Congressional "oversight" on the CIA, but Goss was in charge of that oversight prior to and following the attack, so why was he promoted to head the agency? Do you know anything about Goss's earlier role in the Bay of Pigs, Operation Mongoose teams, or other covert operations?

Mel Goodman: The Goss appointment was driven by cynical politics. He was never a reformer when he led the House intelligence committee. In fact, he called himself an advocate for the CIA. He ignored previous CIA failures and seemed to focus on Tenet for personal reasons. Tenet was a disaster for the CIA, but there are large systemic problems that need to be addressed....but the 9/11 commission and the intelligence reform bill did not address these problems. Goss correctly fired the head of the directorate of intelligence, but he also told the troops to get behind White House policy. Goss is violating the basic principle of the CIA, which is to tell truth to power.

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Fort Mill, S.C.: Who and when do you expect to be selected for the Director, National Intelligence position?

Mel Goodman: The job was offered to Bob Gates, who had to withdraw his name when he was nominated in 1987 (due to his lies on Iran-contra) and who was confirmed in 1991 (with over 30 votes against....more than all CIA directors combined in history). Gates was opposed to establishing an intell director but he was probably also fearful of another confirmation imbroglio. Goss would need to be confirmed, but has so blotted his copybook as CIA director, that he is no longer a strong candidate. There could be a retired military type, which would the wrong direction for this particular position.

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Annapolis, Md.: Hi-

Victoria Toensing, chief counsel to the Senate intelligence committee from 1981 to 1984, has recently argued that revealing the name of an undercover CIA agent (Valerie Plame) was not illegal.

Do you agree with her assessment?

Do you think the Plame case will impact covert operations in the future?

And should the United States reveal the names of CIA agents working overseas? Perhaps post their names on a website?

Here's the link to her op-ed piece in the Chicago Sun Times:


Mel Goodman: Toensing is out-of-bounds here. Revealing the name of anyone under cover violates a 1983 law and calls for up to 12 years in prison. And for good reason....because such revelations put the lives of the CIA agent and, more importantly, all of his/her contacts. The revelation ended the professional career of Plame, but will not significantly have an impact on other clandestine collection. Finally, of course you cannot permit posting the true identies of overseas agents.

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Fairfax, Va.: Seymour Hersh has reported that Goss has been forcing out staff analysts who have needed expertise but who question the administration's positions. Do you agree with Hersh on this and, if so, how much is Goss weakening America's intelligence capability by driving out competent staff?

Mel Goodman: Goss has created a serious morale problem with his hostile attitude toward CIA professionals and his palace guard from the Hill. I don't believe that he is targetting specific analysts. The process is more insidious in that Goss is sending the message that the CIA must provide the intelligence that the White House and that it would be foolhardy to send intelligence that appears hostile to policy.

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Washington, D.C.: If the CIA is such a mess already, how can putting a poltician in charge make things any worse? When Tenet promised Bush that the WMDs case was a "slam dunk" he politicized the agency. Now they have a congressman as director.

Mel Goodman: Totally agree that Tenet was a political director who wanted to please his political masters....not surprising for a lifetime Hill staffer....but the agency needs a reformer to correct the intelligence analysis failures of the agency. The agency problem is not one of collection or coordination, but a failure of unimaginative analysis and lack of competitive analysis. Goss has no background for these problems and demonstrated no interest during his period as House intell chairman. His stewardship at the Hill (six years) coincided with Tenet's stewardship at the agency (again, six years), which was the period of incredible analytical failure. Tenet is accountable, but so are the House and Senate intell chairman who never called for post mortem studies or genuine accountability. Even today, Goss is covering up the 9/11 accountability study that was completed last June and still has not been released to the House and Senate.

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Toronto, Canada: Hello.

Last year there were various claims that the interrogation of those detained at Guantanamo Bay were producing "invaluable intelligence".

Since then we have learned that the Guantanamo detainees were not "the worst of the worst", but were mainly illiterate tribesmen -- when they weren't completely innocent. We have also learned that the most senior detainees have been kept in other secret interrogation centers.

In your opinion, does the claim that "torture-lite" is producing "invaluable intelligence" retain credibility?

Mel Goodman: There has been virtually no important intelligence from the detainees at Guantanamo. These were, for the most, unlucky riff-raff who got caught up in random military actions. Torture won't produce intelligence in any event. And it is interesting that virtually all of the high-level officials who wrote the memoranda that sanctioned torture have been moved to more important jobs or have had their hold on jobs strengthened: e.g., Gonzales, Bybee, Cambone, etc. etc. etc.

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Mel Goodman: One final thought before signing off....we need to pay more attention to the role of the Pentagon in taking on more assignments that include both clandestine collection and covert action, which dodges the oversight process of the congress and could lead to serious problems for American national security. Cheers.....Mel Goodman

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