By Laura Rozen
August 29, 2008
This is part one of a two-part series on the main presidential candidates' intelligence policies. Next week we'll look at Barack Obama.
Tall, broad-shouldered, mustached, Michael Kostiw looks like the former oilman and CIA case officer in Africa he once was. Now, as Republican staff director for Sen. John McCain on the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, Kostiw, 61, is probably the closest top former CIA official to the Republican presidential candidate, and is discussed as a possible candidate for a senior intelligence position should McCain win the presidency. But his relationship with his former Agency is complex. Standing in his large office in the Senate Russell building on a quiet day during August congressional recess, Kostiw shows off a pair of wooden statuettes that were given to him by an African nation's ambassador—and longtime top official in his country's government—to Washington. The envoy, Kostiw says, is an old contact that he proposed trying to recruit two decades ago when he was a CIA case officer in the country. But his Agency boss at the time waved him off the recruitment, saying, "That guy isn't going anywhere."
It's a small but telling anecdote in an almost two-hour conversation with a man whose career trajectory from CIA Soviet East Europe division operations officer to Texaco oilman to cochair of the International Republican Institute to top Porter Goss and McCain Senate aide may signal what a McCain presidency would mean for the intelligence community—and why many from the CIA are quietly worried about a McCain presidency. The Bush years have been brutal for the CIA, which was pilloried for getting Iraq intelligence wrong while accused of downplaying and withholding intelligence from the White House that would have justified military action. Many current and former US spies expect a McCain administration guided by neoconservatives to treat them with hostility and mistrust. They also say McCain would likely weaken the CIA by giving broad new spying authorities to the Pentagon, which CIA officials believe is more amenable to giving policymakers the intelligence they want, while being subject to less congressional oversight.