Reporter's Questions About Islam Put Intelligence Chair on the Spot

"Shiites, who account for some 10 percent to 20 percent of the world's Muslims, split off from the mainstream of Islamic practice because of a disagreement about who was rightfully qualified to lead the Muslim community," says the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations in a background paper on the subject posted on its Web site.

"Shiites believe Islam's leader should be a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. Sunnis say leaders should be chosen through ijma, or consensus. Shiites revere Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet Mohammed's cousin and son-in-law, who was killed while serving as the top leader, or Caliph, of Islam in the 7th century. His tomb is in Najaf, Iraq's holiest Shiite city."

On-the-spot, off-the-cuff questions from reporters have long been a thorn in the side of politicians.

President Bush was famously quizzed by a TV reporter in Boston in November 1999 about the names of world leaders. He went one for four.

Since then he has gotten some on-the-job training.

One of the world leaders Bush was unable to name was General Pervez Musharraf, who at that time had recently taken control of Pakistan in a military coup. Today Musharraf is a major ally of Bush's in the war on terror.

Previous House Intelligence Committee chairmen have had a history, too, of putting their feet in their mouths.

Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., chaired the House Intelligence Committee from 1997 until 2005, when he resigned to be nominated by Bush as CIA director.

Goss had been a CIA agent in the 1960s and 1970s, but told liberal filmmaker Michael Moore long before his nomination to head the agency, that he would not now be qualified even to become an agent.

"It is true I was in CIA from approximately the late '50s to approximately the early '70s," Goss said to Moore.

"And it's true I was a case officer, clandestine services office, and yes I do understand the core mission of the business. I couldn't get a job with CIA today. I am not qualified. I don't have the language skills. I, you know, my language skills were romance languages and stuff. We're looking for Arabists today. I don't have the cultural background probably. And I certainly don't have the technical skills, uh, as my children remind me every day, 'Dad, you got to get better on your computer.' Uh, so, the things that you need to have, I don't have."Goss had been a CIA agent in the 1960s and 1970s, but told liberal filmmaker Michael Moore long before his nomination to head the agency, that would not now be qualified even to become an agent.

Moore conveniently released the interview, which had been stripped from his movie "Fahrenheit 911," before Goss' confirmation hearings.

Quiz Answers: The senators from Wyoming are Republicans Mike Enzi and Craig Thomas, and the Chinese president is Hu Jintao.

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