Now that the Senate Intelligence Committee has voted 11-4 to confirm Robert M. Gates as head of the Central Intelligence Agency, it seems likely the full Senate will concur today. If Mr. Gates knew more about the Iran-contra scandal than he confessed, if he slanted intelligence analysis to please his bosses in the Reagan administration, if he browbeat subordinates and undermined morale, apparently most senators don't want to know. They are learning the uses of "deniability," a field in which Mr. Gates is an expert.
One of the key votes in the Senate will be cast by Georgia's Sam Nunn, an influential member of the intelligence panel. In voting tentatively to confirm at committee level, Mr. Nunn came up with this Delphic utterance: "I have serious reservations, primarily about the signal being sent to the men and women in the intelligence community about how you get to the top in this town."
What "signal" did Senator Nunn have in mind? Is it a career-climber's willingness to kowtow to his superiors? That is an instinct hardly confined to the executive branch. Or is it something more specific -- Mr. Gates' success in cultivating key members of Congress, especially Sen. David Boren, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee?