Gates' nomination hearings produced rancor, praise of his CIA performance

November 04, 1991|By Peter Honey | Peter Honey,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Only three days after taking over the Central Intelligence Agency's intelligence division in January 1982, Robert M. Gates called together his analysts and managers and lambasted their work of the preceding 12 years, calling it "smug . . . close-minded . . . arrogant . . . irrelevant."

The ill will generated by these contemptuous remarks returned to haunt Mr. Gates almost a decade later when angry former colleagues and opposing senators denounced him in similar terms in the recent hearings by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on his nomination to be director of central intelligence.

While others rose in his defense, the sometimes acrimonious debates resolved no issues and only fanned the deep-seated embers of resentment both inside and outside the agency.

The acrimony, tales of deceit and charges of political tampering that flew thick and fast between the spies gathered in the marble and wood-paneled Senate room cast fleeting images of life from behind the usually impenetrable facade of the CIA.

There were no dark disclosures, no exploding cigars or assassination plots such as those that gained notoriety from the Church and Pike committee reports in the mid-1970s on the CIA's clandestine activities. Instead, the testimony laid bare the daily foibles, jealousies, bureaucratic bickering -- even cold political chicanery -- of a U.S. intelligence community that, for all its secret lore and vast bureaucracy, is no different from any other private or public institution that deals routinely with information and analysis.

That is how Bobby Ray Inman, a former deputy director of central intelligence and a staunch supporter of Mr. Gates, sees it.

Disputes and accusations of political bias among CIA analysts, he said, "are things that go on all the time in intelligence; it's a give-and-take that's endemic to the process."

Even so, he noted that current intelligence structures and methods would have to change radically in the next few years to take account of global political changes and looming budget cuts -- changes that were bound to raise tensions within the intelligence field.

"I think we're going to hear a lot more screaming about politicization and bias from there over the next year or two," he said.

A widely liked and respected figure in U.S. intelligence, Mr. Inman disclosed that he played a major role in framing Mr. Gates' contentious 1982 speech.

"It was my idea. I went over it with him in detail," he said.

He had promoted Mr. Gates to deputy director for intelligence -- the chief analyst in the CIA -- specifically to carry out an extensive reorganization of the analysis division that had been planned several months earlier, he said.

"The speech was intended to give the analysts a very candid view of how they were viewed by their peers and by the policy-makers," he said.

One of the more detailed accounts of low morale and political tension among CIA analysts during the early 1980s came in testimony by Carolyn Ekedahl at the Gates hearings. Ms. Ekedahl, a CIA analyst of Soviet affairs, has worked for the agency since the early 1960s and is currently at the Georgetown University Institute of International Diplomacy as a participant in the agency's national "in residence" study program.

Among several allegations, Ms. Ekedahl wrote in a sworn statement that Mr. Gates and his boss, CIA Director William J. Casey, manipulated and ultimately distorted an intelligence report, called an "estimate," that she was asked to write on whether the Soviet Union was involved in terrorism in Europe.

Drawing on a wide variety of intelligence data, Ms. Ekedahl said her draft concluded that although the Soviets would have little moral compunction about using terrorism, there was no persuasive evidence they supported European terrorist groups. In addition, she said, Moscow had consistently discouraged groups such as the Palestine Liberation Organization and some African liberation groups from using terrorism. The report, she said, "drew a strong reaction" from her superior, who, along with Mr. Gates, rewrote portions "by pulling up from the annex reports that overstated Soviet involvement."

Several intelligence officers involved in the project protested the changes, and Mr. Casey asked another intelligence group to tackle the job. Over the next three months, Ms. Ekedahl said, the estimate was reworked and rewritten by various groups. It finally emerged, she said, not as a study of Soviet involvement in terrorism but as a broader report emphasising Moscow's support for "revolutionary violence" in general.

Ms. Ekedahl's account is one of the more detailed, firsthand accounts of how intelligence is synthesized within the intelligence community.

At that time, Ms. Ekedahl said, the CIA's Soviet analysts "were exercising a considerable amount of self-censorship. There seemed little point in spending a lot of time on a project that had no chance of moving through the system."

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