Goss's nomination has yet to be confirmed by the Senate, although it is not expected to face strong opposition. But the change comes at a time when the entire U.S. intelligence community is under intense scrutiny for failing to anticipate the 9/11 attacks and suggesting that Iraq had an arsenal of unconventional weapons.
The 9/11 Commission -- the special panel that investigated the U.S. response to the Al-Qaeda attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania -- accused the CIA of lacking creativity in its thinking. The panel recommended creating a new post to oversee all U.S. intelligence gathering, and Bush has signaled he will move forward with the plan.
Edward Atkeson is a retired U.S. Army general who served as an intelligence officer in Europe during the Cold War. He said he welcomes the proposal to create a new intelligence-oversight position. He told RFE/RL such a post would remove many burdens from the CIA director -- including the responsibility for giving the president his daily intelligence briefing.
"If you remove the director of central intelligence from direct, daily contact with the president of the United States, there's less opportunity for political mischief, I would say, among members of the White House staff," Atkeson said.
Atkeson said the current arrangement gives the CIA director a kind of supremacy over other intelligence chiefs, but no real power. The Defense Department, which has the largest budget in the U.S. government, can easily overrule recommendations by the CIA.
Atkeson also said daily contact with the White House can lead the CIA director to tell the president what he wants to hear -- not deliver unbiased intelligence and analysis. The last CIA director, George Tenet, who retired a month ago, was accused of doing just that. A new director of national intelligence, Atkeson said, could act as a buffer between the CIA and the White House -- and could help produce more balanced intelligence.
Atkeson said the next CIA director -- as well as Defense Department officials -- will have to accept that their organizations may be less powerful if a national intelligence post is created. He said both the CIA and the Pentagon oppose the change. "That's what they're fighting over. There are two entities that don't want this change," he said. "One is the CIA, because they're demoted. The other is the Defense Department, because they would lose control of some of their entities."
Some observers say a major restructuring of the U.S. intelligence community does not make sense. Anthony Cordesman, a former intelligence analyst for the Defense and State departments, is now a senior scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. "[The proposal] attempts to fix the problem in general by changing the leadership of the intelligence community," he told RFE/RL. "This is a typical Washington problem, that if you change the organization chart you've solved the problem."
Like Atkeson, Cordesman said the CIA and other intelligence agencies should avoid politicization of their findings. But he said simply inserting a buffer between the president and the CIA director does not accomplish that. The problem, he said, is not in the CIA, but in the White House. "They [reforms] don't address any of the embarrassing problems that occurred in the policy community. By default, they blame the intelligence community for virtually everything."
Cordesman has long complained that the Bush administration went to war in Iraq not because of a growing threat posed by Saddam Hussein, but because the president's closest advisers wanted to depose Hussein for ideological reasons -- reasons that had nothing to do with any CIA findings.