Spy vs. Spy

Porter Goss was a bad guy, but General Hayden is the wrong guy. Plus, the Moussaoui verdict and replacing boston’s top cop.
By EDITORIAL  |  May 11, 2006

Spy Vs. Spy
SPY VS. SPY: Goss may have been bad, but will Hayden be any better?

When Washington bigwigs want to dispose of a particularly nasty piece of trash, they break the news late in the day Friday. Their hope is twofold: that the news either will get lost in the more relaxed weekend news cycle or that the relatively muffled reaction to the development will buy them more time in which to get their acts in better order. As a rule, they’re driven by a bit of both. That’s just what happened when President Bush surprisingly and unceremoniously canned former conservative congressman Porter Goss as chief of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Goss, of course, should never have been named in the first place. His appointment was another Bush blunder. He was, at best, a second-rate talent, a hack more interested in scoring partisan points than in making national policy. His very lack of substance no doubt held a certain appeal for Bush, who values reliability and loyalty over sagacity and know-how. But in the end, Goss was too inept for even this foreign-policy-challenged president.

For better or worse — and these days it’s usually for the worse — the CIA is supposed to be on the frontline of the nation’s defense. When Goss took over, the agency was already demoralized by its pathetic performance in the run-up to the Iraq war (“Look, Ma — no weapons of mass destruction!”) and compromised by political interference (“Don’t blame us — Dick Cheney made us do it!”). Goss, nevertheless, managed the impossible: by purging competent career officers and recruiting cronies, he rendered the CIA even more incompetent and demoralized. Neat trick.

Air Force four-star general Michael Hayden, whom Bush has nominated to succeed Goss, enjoys a reputation as a skilled bureaucratic infighter. The fact that he has not allowed himself to be bullied by the obnoxious Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is a point of sorts in his favor. But as head of the National Security Agency, the biggest (controlling almost 80 percent of intelligence funds) and most secretive of the nation’s 16 spy outfits, Hayden is intimately implicated by recent intelligence hot potatoes: the failure to adequately warn of the 9/11 attacks, the failure to accurately assess whether Iraq had existing chemical weapons and an ongoing nuclear-weapons effort, and the aggressive and illegal program to eavesdrop on domestic telephone and Internet communications. It’s quite a profile. Only Cheney and Rumsfeld, the architects of Bush’s Iraq war, have a stronger record.

Despite some welcome objections raised by congressional Republicans, Hayden will most likely be confirmed. His role in Bush’s warrantless domestic-spying program will most likely — and perversely — redound to his and Bush’s favor. Bush may enjoy a pathetic public-approval rating of 31 percent, but the nation is about evenly divided when it comes to supporting Bush’s unconstitutional internal surveillance. By tapping into a latent vein of bonehead sentiment, Bush will replace a bad guy with the wrong guy.

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  Topics: The Editorial Page , Politics, U.S. Politics, Zacarias Moussaoui,  More more >
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