President Bush's nominee to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency says he is committed to reform and would be a fair and independent spy chief if confirmed by the Senate. But at a confirmation hearing, Democrats expressed skepticism.
The Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, says President Bush's nominee to head the CIA, fellow Republican Congressman Porter Goss of Florida, is the best man for the job.
"His experience I think makes him uniquely suited to serve as the director of Central Intelligence," he said.
Mr. Goss spent more than a decade as a CIA case officer, and until recently, served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
But the top Democrat on the Senate panel, Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, expressed concern about comments Mr. Goss has made praising President Bush and criticizing Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.
"Congressman Goss, having reviewed your record closely, I have a number of concerns about whether your past partisan actions or statements will allow you to be the type of nonpartisan, independent and objective national intelligence advisor our country needs," he said.
Other Democrats questioned the congressman's commitment to intelligence reform. They said the House Intelligence Committee under his leadership did little to investigate intelligence lapses prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and faulty intelligence on Iraq's weapons.
But Mr. Goss defended his record, and said he is indeed committed to reform. He highlighted priorities for the intelligence community, including improving human intelligence and analytical capabilities and sharing information among agencies. He also vowed to be an independent CIA director.
"If confirmed, I pledge to be forthright and objective in the presentation of the intelligence information to you and to policy makers of the executive branch," he said.
Despite some Democrats' concerns about the nominee, Mr. Goss is expected to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist wants a confirmation vote before the Senate adjourns October 8.
If confirmed, Mr. Goss would succeed George Tenet, who resigned in July. Mr. Tenet's deputy, John McLaughlin, has been serving as acting director in the interim.
The confirmation hearings come as Congress is considering creating the position of national intelligence director to oversee all 15 agencies that conduct intelligence, including the CIA The bipartisan federal commission that probed the September 11th attacks recommended creating the post, among other proposals.