Senate approves Gates to head CIA Agency veteran is confirmed 64-31

November 06, 1991|By Tim Weiner | Tim Weiner,Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- After a grueling six-month confirmation battle over spies, lies and the new world order, Robert M. Gates won the Senate's approval yesterday as the new director of central intelligence.

Mr. Gates won a 64-31 vote after fighting charges that he had "selective amnesia" about CIA scandals, that he skewed intelligence reports to please his bosses and that he lived in a Cold War world. The 31 negative votes were the most ever cast against a nominee for director of central intelligence.

Mr. Gates, a 20-year CIA veteran and President Bush's deputy national security adviser since 1989, now faces the task of overhauling the nation's multibillion-dollar intelligence machine. He has vowed to remake U.S. intelligence and to refocus its computers, satellites and eavesdropping gear from Cold War targets toward threats still unforeseen.

His supporters and detractors alike expressed hope that Mr. Gates was the man for the job. But some of the "yeas" were ambivalent.

"A close call," said Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga. "A reasonable risk," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

No senator argued -- and none could -- that Mr. Gates was unqualified. "The question is not one of qualifications, but one of trust," said a supporter, Sen. Howell Heflin, D-Ala.

Mr. Gates' staunchest backer, Sen. David L. Boren, D-Okla., chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, strongly assured his colleagues that Mr. Gates was trustworthy. He vowed to demand Mr. Gates' resignation if he ever betrayed that trust.

Mr. Boren's unswerving support swayed many of the Senate's Democrats. However, some remained convinced that Mr. Gates was an old-time cold warrior.

"I have an uneasy feeling about Mr. Gates, and I don't think we ought to have that uneasy feeling about whoever heads the CIA," said Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill.

Mr. Gates' record at the CIA, where he held the posts of director of intelligence, deputy director and acting director of central intelligence in the Reagan administration, was his greatest strength and his severest weakness during the confirmation process.

Mr. Gates is almost universally regarded as a highly intelligent, deeply committed CIA veteran with detailed knowledge of the 12 agencies that make up the mosaic of U.S. intelligence.

But Mr. Gates' experience included command authority at the CIA in the mid-1980s -- years when top officials boldly lied to Congress about secret U.S. military aid to Iran and to the Nicaraguan contras.

Given the many questions about Mr. Gates' role in that foreign policy fiasco and other CIA misadventures, "if there ever was a time the CIA needed an outsider, it's now," argued Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark.

Mr. Gates also fought charges that he had slanted intelligence analyses and that he pressured CIA analysts to conform with Reagan administration policies. The charges, made by present and former CIA analysts during confirmation hearings, never were proved or refuted.

Mr. Gates, 48 and a native of Wichita, Kan., becomes the 15th director of central intelligence -- and only the third career CIA officer to hold the post, the second-youngest ever and the first to rise from the ranks of the agency's intelligence directorate.

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