Will Richard Perle Get His Boy at the CIA?
imminent choice by U.S. President George W Bush of a new director
of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), blasted Friday for "groupthink"
and incompetence by a key Congressional committee, is fast becoming
the major new battleground between the administration's hawks and
Senior Bush officials have said the president is virtually certain
to nominate a successor – possibly as early as this week – to the
hapless George Tenet, whose announced resignation last month took
effect Sunday, exactly seven years after he took the job under former
President Bill Clinton.
With the departments of Justice and Homeland Security warning of
dire new threats from al-Qaeda terrorists – possibly designed to
disrupt the November elections – and Friday's release of the Senate
Intelligence Committee's damning report on the CIA's performance
leading up to the war in Iraq, Bush's advisers concluded that leaving
in place the CIA's acting director, career officer John McLaughlin,
could be interpreted by voters as complacency, particularly if a
successful terrorist attack were carried out.
that the CIA has been torn apart [by the Senate Committee], they
want to show they're really serious about getting its act together
fast," said one official. "Keeping McLaughlin in place sends the
Both the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican
Sen. Pat Roberts, and its vice-chairman, Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller,
said much the same Sunday. "You cannot leave in an acting director
for six or seven months while you wait for the next [presidential]
inauguration, regardless of who is elected," said Rockefeller. "We
cannot take that chance."
The problem faced by the administration, however, is that it does
not yet have a candidate for the position who can be confirmed by
the Senate relatively easily and still be acceptable to neoconservative
hawks centered around Vice President Dick Cheney and Pentagon chief
Three names have gained the most attention to date. Florida Representative
Porter Goss, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee of the House
of Representatives and a former CIA officer himself, made no secret
of his desire for the job after Tenet made his surprise announcement
Goss has until recently enjoyed relatively good relations with Democrats
on the committee, but these have worsened in recent weeks as his
public statements have become increasingly partisan, perhaps in
hopes of making him more attractive to Bush.
But the bigger problem for Goss is that he was widely considered
one of Tenet's staunchest defenders on Capitol Hill. Both Democrats
and some Republicans are now saying the two intelligence committees
were far too lax in dealing with Tenet and should have exercised
much stronger oversight. Unfortunately for Goss, that was his job.
The two other most prominently mentioned candidates – neither of
whom publicly confirmed their interest – are identified with the
two major factions that have battled for control of foreign policy
within the Bush administration since it took office three and a
half years ago.
John Lehman, who served as secretary of the navy under Ronald Reagan
(198189) is a dyed-in-the-wool neoconservative who most recently
gained public attention in June when, as a member of the commission
that investigated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and
the Pentagon, he spoke out in defense of Cheney's continued insistence
that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein may have played some
role in the 9/11 catastrophe.
A staunch supporter of Likud governments in Israel, Lehman has long
been closely associated – both professionally and ideologically
– with a number of other prominent neoconservatives, including former
Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle and Deputy Secretary
of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. After the 9/11 attacks, he signed an
open letter published by the neoconservative-dominated Project for
the New American Century (PNAC) that urged that Washington overthrow
Like other neoconservatives, he has also been a chronic critic of
the CIA for allegedly producing overly optimistic assessments of
the capabilities and intentions of U.S. foes, from the Soviet Union
Lehman's nomination would signal a major resurgence of neoconservative
influence in the Bush administration after months of steady decline
resulting from their overly optimistic predictions about postwar
For the same reason, however, his nomination is likely to prove
problematic, not only to Democratic senators but to a growing number
of their Republican counterparts as well, beginning with Intelligence
Committee chairman Roberts himself, who, on releasing the report
last week, suggested he would not have supported the war in Iraq
if he had known that Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction
need to restrain what are growing U.S. messianic instincts – a sort
of global social engineering where the United States feels it is
both entitled and obligated to promote democracy – by force if necessary,"
Roberts said at the end of May in what was taken by most analysts
as a parting of the ways between traditionally conservative Republicans
in Congress and the neoconservatives in the administration.
The third major candidate for the job, Deputy Secretary of State
Richard Armitage, would be the most easily confirmed, according
to most observers, but his close friendship with his boss, Secretary
of State Colin Powell, as well as his reputation as a realist, makes
him unacceptable to the neocons and other hawks around Cheney and
Rumsfeld, who vetoed his appointment as deputy defense secretary
early in the administration precisely because they thought he was
too close to Powell.
Armitage, one of the original "Vulcans" who advised Bush during
his 2000 presidential campaign and served in a senior Pentagon position
under Reagan, has generally been to the right of Powell – he has
signed a number of PNAC statements, for example – but has also shown,
quite openly, contempt for armchair hawks, particularly many of
the neoconservatives who have not served in the military. A graduate
of the U.S. Naval Academy, Armitage is a combat veteran who participated
in covert operations in Vietnam.
In a first shot at Armitage's candidacy, the lead editorial in the
neoconservative Wall Street Journal charged "[he] has been
consistently wrong about Iran, which will be a principle threat
going forward, and he and Colin Powell's philosophy at the State
Department has been to let the bureaucrats run the place. We can
think of better choices."
Journal did not disclose whom it had in mind for the CIA's
top job, but Lehman has written frequently on its op-ed page.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 One World