Clinton's intelligence advisory board will be outlet for expertise, patronage


April 25, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Almost no one else has heard of it, but members of a presidential panel known as the Pfiab can take private pride in being privy to some of the hottest secrets in town.

That is what makes a place on the panel, the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, perhaps the plummiest of all White House appointments -- and a post that often lands in the hands of those to whom presidents and their parties owe favors. The Clinton White House, it turns out, is no exception.

As disclosed by a White House official, those who President Clinton is soon to appoint to this elite panel include Zoe Baird, his one-time nominee as attorney general; Vernon E. Jordan, the transition chairman who was not given a job in the administration; and Thomas F. Eagleton, the former senator from Missouri who was abruptly replaced as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 1972 after it was disclosed that he had undergone electric shock therapy.

"Not everybody on the board is supposed to be an intelligence expert," said Dee Dee Myers, the White House press secretary.

The board's chairman, announced earlier this year, is Adm. William J. Crowe, a retired former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was a staunch Clinton supporter in last year's presidential campaign.

To be sure, the appointees also include a star-studded list of intelligence specialists, a sign that the panel will continue to be a source of expertise as well as an outlet for patronage.

Among the members are Morton I. Abramowitz, the State Department's former top intelligence official; Anne Z. Carachristi, former deputy director of the Nation al Security Agency; Sidney Drell, a Stanford University physicist; and Warren B. Rudman, a former Republican senator from New Hampshire and one-time member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

To make room for all these friends and experts, Mr. Clinton has expanded the board to at least 12 members, from eight. Members of the panel are unpaid.

Apart from its expanded size, the Clinton board roughly follows a pattern followed by President George Bush, who chose as chairman of the panel former Sen. John G. Tower of Texas, his rejected nominee as defense secretary.

Exactly what the Pfiab (pronounced PIFF-ee-ab) does is something of a mystery. The official mission of the board, which was established in 1956, is to offer the president "objective advice on United States foreign intelligence."

But the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence organizations are also expected to offer objective advice, and in the Old Executive Office Building, the suites occupied by the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board are just next door to yet another panel, the President's Intelligence Oversight Board.

All this hunger for information is a source of frustration for professional intelligence officers, who must brief members of the panel on closely held government secrets. "It just makes for one more step on the briefing circuit," complained one former top intelligence official who had hoped that Clinton would abolish the presidential panel.

A White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity said an official announcement of the appointments was being withheld until security clearances could be completed.

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