WASHINGTON -- Robert M. Gates struck back with contained anger and deliberation yesterday at former colleagues who have opposed his quest to head the CIA, conducting a carefully crafted defense that even critics conceded may have clinched majority support in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for his confirmation.
As the hearing adjourned until today -- when the committee is expected to hold its last open session -- Mr. Gates, the president's deputy adviser on national security, seemed assured of the votes of all seven Republicans and at least one, possibly three, of the Democrats on the 15-member panel.
Senators and aides cautioned, however, that they would not commit themselves until they had examined all of the testimony. They were scheduled to close doors later today for classified testimony and discussion before voting Oct. 18 on whether to recommend Mr. Gates' confirmation in the Senate. The process does not involve the House.
In a tone of wounded pride, Mr. Gates spoke of the "dismay as well as some pain and anger" he felt when several former CIA colleagues and friends testified this week that he had twisted or suppressed intelligence -- particularly on the Soviet Union -- for political purposes while he was the agency's deputy director and intelligence chief in the mid-1980s.
The 48-year-old Soviet specialist then fashioned the allegations into 20 "charges" and proceeded, one by one, to give detailed reasons why each was false.
"I never distorted intelligence to support policy or to please a policy-maker," he said.
The "charges" related mostly to CIA reports that were disputed within the agency but were forwarded to policy-makers anyway -- for example, one that suggested the KGB was behind the 1981 attempted assassination of the pope and another that claimed the Soviet Union was poised to make political gains in Iran.
One of the most serious allegations came in earlier testimony by former CIA Soviet analyst Melvin Goodman, who asserted that Mr. Gates had deliberately misled President Ronald Reagan by allowing him to receive incorrect intelligence reports about Iranian dissidents that supposedly precipitated the Iran-contra scandal.
"This allegation that I allowed a president to get CIA disinformation is a particularly reckless and pernicious charge," Mr. Gates declared. He said that there was no record of the alleged reports and that the official who was alleged to have compiled the reports denied doing so.
Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., one of Mr. Gates' most persistent opponents on the committee, said during a break in the hearing: "This was the consummate analyst defending his turf. He made 20 points when there were really only four or five, but he didn't touch on the real, the central issue, which is whether he has the flexibility and boldness to lead the agency through the great changes that lie ahead [in world affairs]."
Mr. Bradley was joined by Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, in expressing disquiet that as many as five former associates, some of whom still work at the CIA, were prepared voluntarily to put their reputations and possibly their jobs on the line by testifying against Mr. Gates.
The nominee responded by pointing out that highly respected intelligence experts, including retired CIA deputy directors Bobby Ray Inman and John McMahon, had testified in his support.
He indicated also that some analysts may have taken a dislike to him because they might have resented his style of management. He was a bit of a taskmaster, he admitted, who insisted on taut, factual analyses.
"This is not a popularity contest," Mr. Gates said, "and I sure as hell wouldn't win one at the CIA."
Mr. Gates said his "uncommon relationship" with President Bush, and Mr. Bush's own experience as CIA director, "offer a unique opportunity to remake American intelligence," in cooperation with Congress.
The White House later reaffirmed the president's confidence in his nominee and said he expected him to be confirmed.
When Mr. Gates entered the hearings Sept. 16, it quickly became apparent that he had the support of most committee members.
This support receded after adverse testimony from former colleagues this week, though not to the point where Mr. Gates might have lost the nomination: Rock-solid Republican support and lingering favor from Democrat Alan Cranston, D-Calif., ensured him a bare majority.
Yesterday, all seven Republicans expressed continued support for Mr. Gates, and several spoke with withering contempt for the testimony of critics: "Sour grapes," Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo., called it.
Mr. Cranston, who said Wednesday that several Democrats had been "shaken" by the adverse testimony about Mr. Gates, said yesterday that he thought the nominee had regained ground with his statement.
"I thought it was an effective response," he said.
Sen. Warren B. Rudman, R-N.H., said he had been angered by what he termed unsubstantiated criticism of Mr. Gates.