Catharsis for the CIA

October 06, 1991

Compared to the toppling of Felix Dzerzhinsky's monumental statue outside the KGB building in Moscow last August, the CIA's humiliations during the Robert Gates hearings are more than bearable. They are well-deserved and potentially salutary. If the CIA is to transform itself into an intelligence agency relevant to a world in which the KBG is ostensibly coming in from the cold, the agency at Langley, Va., will have to rid itself of a lot of obsessions, habits, feuds and infighting.

Americans were understandably transfixed during the past week's televised Senate hearings in which the CIA's dirty laundry was hung out to dry. It was ostensibly a battle between CIA analysts who accused Mr. Gates of slanting intelligence estimates -- a practice he once described as contrary to "the single deepest ethical and cultural principle of the CIA" -- and those who held he is well qualified to be Director of Central Intelligence.

But the hearings revealed more than that. Also on view was a struggle between those (like Mr. Gates) who took an exaggerated view of Soviet prowess and those (once labeled "Com-symps") who perceived the rot in the Soviet empire.

A week ago, this newspaper urged the withdrawal or rejection of the Gates nomination; almost everything that has transpired since reinforces that view. Nevertheless, confirmation is for the Senate to decide. With the spotlight on the CIA, this is a moment to examine the agency and consider how it should change to meet new challenges.

Only for the inattentive was it a revelation that analysts disputed among themselves, that the wishes of high-ups had a chilling effect on those collating information and that under an ideologue like Mr. Casey there were strong suspicions that intelligence reports were being slanted. Now that the whole country knows, it is important to emphasize that fierce debate within the agency should be encouraged and intelligence estimates, while taking a stand, should include dissenting views. Whoever takes over the CIA will have to battle the perception that the agency has been politicized to the point where its intelligence estimates are degraded. Mr. Gates said it will be a "tall order."

Since the CIA was formed as the Cold War began, more than half of its energies have been directed at the Soviet Union. Military and ideological conflict have always been paramount. Henceforth, the agency will have to concentrate more and more on regional strife in the Third World and on economic competition among the industrial democracies. Intelligence gathering is likely to be far more important than covert operations. The development of satellite systems to keep constant watch on the entire globe will be a high priority.

What the nation wants is an assurance that the CIA has the leadership, the mind-set, the authority and the agility to serve well in new world circumstances. After all, it has to keep ahead of the KGB.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.