Gates' burden

September 17, 1991

Even Robert Gates' most steadfast defenders have to admit that he has a great deal to overcome in order to win confirmation as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Gates opened the Senate hearings on his nomination yesterday by conceding that he "should have done more" to learn about the whole illegal, arms-for-hostages trading scheme which goes under the rubric of "Iran-contra."

Just how much Gates did know is problematical. For one thing, the present acting director of the CIA, Richard Kerr, says he told Gates about the illegal enterprise a full month before Gates claimed to have discovered it. Gates says he simply forgot about it -- a claim which stretches credibility to the snapping point.

Even if we accept Gates' story that he knew nothing -- when those both above him and below him knew about it -- the question becomes, is someone so incompetent that he couldn't detect a crime going on under his nose the right person to head the CIA?

Then there's the matter of Gates' vaunted "expertise" on the Soviet Union. We now know that the CIA's estimates of the

Soviet Union's economic and political stability was overrated to the point that top policy makers were led to expend huge sums of money unnecessarily to defend the country against a paper tiger.

These things raise the question: Is Gates really a first-rate mind is he just an accomplished bureaucrat?

Robert Gates has a lot of hard questions to answer before he is

confirmed as director of central intelligence.

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