WASHINGTON -- President Bush's nominee to head the CIA, Robert M. Gates, slanted intelligence, stifled dissent and may have helped deliberately mislead President Ronald Reagan into changing U.S. policy on Iran in the mid-1980s, a former CIA senior analyst told a Senate panel yesterday.
As deputy to Central Intelligence Agency Director William J. Casey, Mr. Gates acted as his boss' "filter" to ensure that the agency's analysts produced reports in tune with Mr. Casey's "world view of the Soviet Union as the source of all U.S. problems in the international arena," said Melvin A. Goodman, former deputy division chief of Soviet analysis. Mr. Gates fired Mr. Goodman in 1985 after 25 years at the agency.
Yesterday's testimony provided a rare glimpse into the CIA's innerworkings, as well as into the intense rivalries in the agency's Directorate of Intelligence -- its analytical division.
The denunciation by former colleagues has also raised some doubts about Mr. Gates' confirmation, which earlier had seemed assured. At the same time, others came to his defense.
"Gates' role in this activity was to corrupt the process and ethics of intelligence on all these issues," said Mr. Goodman, who now heads the faculty of Soviet studies at the National War College.
His scathing assessment -- potentially the most damaging testimony, if proven, since the hearing began three weeks ago -- was both challenged and supported by other former colleagues of the man who is currently Mr. Bush's deputy national security adviser.
A former CIA Middle East analyst who now works for the RAND Corp., Graham Fuller, told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that he had never known Mr. Gates to twist intelligence. Another former associate, Lawrence Gershwin, said Mr. Gates had set high standards, boosted the morale of analysts and encouraged them to take into account a diversity of opinion.
This was not, however, the Robert Gates that Harold Ford, a part-time CIA officer, knew.
Mr. Ford said it was "painful" for him to speak against Mr. Gates' confirmation because, as his supervisor, "Bob Gates was good to me."
But after listening to Mr. Gates' testimony over the past weeks -- his "clever" inability to remember crucial points, even though gifted with photographic memory -- and the damning accounts by other intelligence officers whom he respected, Mr.
Ford said he did not believe that the nominee was suited to the task.
It was clear that the negative testimony, which first had been delivered in a classified committee hearing last week, had weakened the strong support shown previously for Mr. Gates by the 15-member panel.
"I think some Democratic members have been badly shaken," said Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif. "I am still leaning toward him but am reserving judgment."
"I think when we finish all the questioning of the witnesses, Gates will be confirmed," said Sen. John H. Chafee, R-R.I., one of seven committee Republicans forming a bloc that has so far shown solid support for the president's candidate.
Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., speaking from Washington last night on the ABC-TV program "Nightline," said, "I want to be fair to Mr. Gates, but I think the allegations today are very serious." They "could be very damaging if we don't get to the bottom of it."
The committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Frank H. Murkowski of Alaska, noted that highly regarded intelligence experts such as retired CIA deputies Bobby Ray Inman and John McMahon had endorsed Mr. Gates. His detractors would "have a heavy burden of proof," Mr. Murkowski said.
Mr. Goodman said one of the most damaging examples of Mr. Gates' politicizing of analysis was his support for an unsubstantiated report in 1985 that he sought to implicate the Soviet Union in the 1981 assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II.
The report, which was declassified yesterday, carried a cover letter from Mr. Gates to the White House, describing it as "the most balanced work" the CIA had produced on the subject.
Mr. Goodman also said Mr. Gates "pandered to Casey's agenda" in Nicaragua and allowed CIA agents to bypass normal CIA reporting channels to provide President Reagan with an intelligence report on Iran that they knew was false.
"I firmly believe that the CIA was responsible for passing disinformation to the president of the United States . . . and it makes me angry, senators," he said.
Mr. Goodman contended that the report, which alleged that there were political moderates in Iran with whom the United States could establish a relationship, was the basis for the arms-for-hostages sales to Iran that led to the Iran-contra scandal.
Mr. Fuller, the CIA's former Mideast analyst, accused Mr. Goodman of "serious distortions" in his accounts about Mr. Gates.
"I do not readily recognize the Bob Gates described in his testimony," Mr. Fuller said.
Mr. Goodman, on the other hand, said Mr. Gates had suppressed individuality and dissent.