WASHINGTON -- A former Central Intelligence Agency official asserted in Senate hearings yesterday that Robert M. Gates actively suppressed dissent, slanted intelligence conclusions and intimidated analysts who disagreed with his views in his years as a senior intelligence official, according to people familiar with testimony he presented before a closed session of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Democrats on the committee immediately seized on the accusations, documented with classified internal agency analyses and memorandums made available to the Senate panel. They asserted that the material was too important to be dealt with behind closed doors.
In private session, they demanded that the hearings be opened to the public, according to people attending the hearing.
The debate proved to touch so many delicate areas that the senators cut off the hearings and sent most staff members outside the roomwhile they discussed the issues for 30 minutes.
There was no immediate indication that yesterday's testimony changed any votes in the committee. Most of the committee members have indicated that they intend or are inclined to vote for Mr. Gates.
But one senator on the committee said in a brief interview last eveningthat the testimony was so disruptive that the members would have to rethink their assumptions about President Bush's nominee as CIA director.
In the end, the Committee agreed unanimously that much of the testimony could be made public.
They also announced that today's session would be canceled and that an open session would be held next Tuesday.
Sen. David L. Boren, D-Okla., who heads the committee, insisted in remarks to reporters that the schedule change was not a "setback" for Mr. Gates. But the development clearly disrupted his well-laid plans to finish up all testimony today and vote on the nomination early next week.
In an hour-long statement yesterday, Melvin A. Goodman, a professor at the National War College who worked as a Soviet specialist at the CIA for 24 years, portrayed Mr. Gates, working under the leadership of William J. Casey, CIA director from 1981 to 1986, as an inflexible superior who repeatedly changed the conclusions of his analysts and packaged intelligence analyses as consensus views while ignoring the views of those who disagreed with him.
In testimony last week, Mr. Gates defended himself against accusations that he had slanted intelligence, arguing that the issue was highly subjective. He portrayed himself as a boss who eagerly sought out alternate views.
Since yesterday's hearings were closed, it was not immediately clear how seriously Mr. Goodman's account was challenged in cross-examination.
Former colleagues at the CIA describe Mr. Goodman, a senior Soviet analyst and chief of the Soviet-Third World Division, as an exceptional and highly regarded analyst.
In his testimony, Mr. Goodman also asserted that in at least one instance, a classified May 1985 interagency intelligence "estimate" on Iran, Mr. Gates concealed and "covered up" what the witness called the manipulation and suppression of dissenting views in a letter on the matter to Senator Boren.
He asserted that the highly contentious report, prepared by the National Intelligence Council under Mr. Gates' chairmanship and completed just before the United States began to secretly sell arms to Tehran, ignored the analyses of both the Soviet specialists at the CIA and the Iran specialists at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
Mr. Goodman also said that Mr. Gates was made aware of dissent by the Soviet analysts and told Graham Fuller, then the National Intelligence officer responsible for drafting the estimate, to ignore their views.
He maintained that Mr. Gates had made a "false" statement to the committee during his testimony last week when he said he learned only later of the internal dissent.