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10 Questions for Porter Goss

Time Magazine | June 19, 2005

He had been director of the Central Intelligence Agency for just seven months when the onetime CIA spy had to cede much of his power to the new director of national intelligence, John Negroponte. But Porter Goss, 66, says he now has more time to run America's largest human intelligence agency. He sat down for his first interview with TIME's Timothy J. Burger.

WHEN WILL WE GET OSAMA BIN LADEN? That is a question that goes far deeper than you know. In the chain that you need to successfully wrap up the war on terror, we have some weak links. And I find that until we strengthen all the links, we're probably not going to be able to bring Mr. bin Laden to justice. We are making very good progress on it. But when you go to the very difficult question of dealing with sanctuaries in sovereign states, you're dealing with a problem of our sense of international obligation, fair play. We have to find a way to work in a conventional world in unconventional ways that are acceptable to the international community.

IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU HAVE A PRETTY GOOD IDEA OF WHERE HE IS. WHERE? I have an excellent idea of where he is. What's the next question?

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY HAS SAID THE IRAQ INSURGENCY IS IN ITS LAST THROES. IS THAT YOUR READ? I think they're not quite in the last throes, but I think they are very close to it. And I think that every day that goes by in Iraq where they have their own government and it's moving forward reinforces just how radical [the insurgents] are and how unwanted they are.

COULD THE U.S. GO TO WAR AGAIN BASED ON FALSE INTELLIGENCE? I would not agree to surmise that America has gone to war based on false intelligence. I would say that the right question is: Should America be checking out threats to America? The answer is yes. And will we find some threats were more talk than real? Yes, we will.

COULD AL-QAEDA HIT US AGAIN? Yes, it could. Certainly the intent is very high. And we are trying to stay ahead of their capability. And so far, I think we have done pretty well carrying the war to them, as it were. I think that's mattered.

YOU HAVE BEEN A BIG CRITIC OF CIA HUMAN INTELLIGENCE. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO FIX IT? We're fixing it with quantity and quality. We're changing methods. We're changing systems. We're changing it from the beginning to the end, from the recruitment--the types of people we are trying to attract--to the way we bring them in, to the experience we give them in training, to the ways we get them on station or in places where they are of use to us. We are focused very much on finding ways to get our eyes and ears out and about on a global basis. And we are doing it in ways that you can't even imagine and I'm not even going to slightly discuss.

HOW MUCH DOES IT HURT CIA MORALE TO SEE THE DIRECTOR LOSE PRESIDENTIAL FACE TIME AND THE ROLE OF INTEL QUARTERBACK TO JOHN NEGROPONTE? I would almost equate it to getting rid of a 60-lb. back sack, climbing up a big, steep trail. I suddenly feel like I am refreshed. The more you see of a President of the United States of America, the more you want to be helpful and the more you want to be very careful not to waste his or her time. And I will not be using the President's time frivolously.

HOW LONG DO YOU PLAN TO STAY IN THIS JOB? How long are we going to be at war with the terrorists? It's going to be a while. We've got a lot to do. We're in the process of rebuilding here. I think this is our moment. I'm going to be here as long as the moment lasts. And I think it is going to last a while because we have the opportunity to build.

ARE YOU PERSONAL FRIENDS WITH NEGROPONTE? I went to school with him. We agreed that we wouldn't talk about Yale. John and I have a pact: I won't tell if you won't tell.

YOU'RE INTO ORGANIC GARDENING. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN? Mrs. Goss got a little horrified after she started reading the labels on some of the processed foods. We have a farm that [uses] no pesticides, no hormones, no additives--just compost and hard work. And we grow natural. I must say it's very rewarding to see. But the problem is, the critters take half of every plant. They're hard to sell. We haven't trained the critters yet which ones are theirs.


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911:  The Road to Tyranny