PRESIDENT BUSH wants Robert Gates to head the Central Intelligence Agency, a job Bush once held. President Reagan also favored Gates, but withdrew his previous nomination in 1987 as facts about the Iran-contra affair surfaced.
Gates was a CIA leader when the agency waged covert warfare hidden from the American people. He helped his boss, former director William Casey, deceive Congress. Gates is "a very smart guy who ... covered his rear end" in the affair, security expert Tom Blanton says.
Director William Webster seemed to be making a genuine effort to curb the CIA's involvement in dirty work, but Webster has been squeezed out. The Gates nomination bears the disturbing implication that the spy agency may resume its odious role of being the White House's secret liaison with foreign killers like the contras and Manuel Noriega.
We agree with Sen. Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., that the $30 billion cladestine CIA empire should be reduced and made an information-gathering branch of the State Department.
Moynihan points out that the CIA, despite its gigantic spending in darkest secrecy, has been wrong in many of its major conclusions over the years. It constantly said the Soviet Union's economy was three times larger than it actually was, and it was wrong about conditions in the Mideast. After years of trying, it can't learn where any of the U.S. hostages are being held by Shiite terrrorists....
In a book, former Secretary of State Dean Acheson says he had "the gravest forebodings" when the CIA was created in 1947 and warned President Harry Truman that neither he "nor anyone else would be ina position to know what it was doing or to control it."
The Gates nomination seems likely to be approved by the U.S. Senate. But all of Congress should re-examine the need for such an enormous spy apparatus. The Cold War is over. Cloak-and-dagger maneuvers against the Red Menace are as outmoded as the aging gunfighters who lingered after the Old West ceased being a frontier.
Gathering of intelligence -- especially to prevent terrorism -- is a necessity. But America doesn't need a $30 billion spy empire for that task.