Washington -- The resignation of R. James Woolsey as director of the Central Intelligence Agency has raised anew that perennial question, ''What's wrong with the CIA?''
The recent chairman of the Senate Intelligence committee, Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, says it needs a ''change of culture.'' Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., says it needs to be abolished. Some lawmakers have said it just needs a new leader.
I say that the CIA has too many people with too much money who operate under too much secrecy.
I am not among those who argue that with the Cold War threat of nuclear war gone, we no longer need a world-class intelligence service. There is plenty that U.S. officials need to know about terrorism, emerging international conflicts and other destabilizing developments.
But we sure don't need 6,000 ''spooks'' in a clandestine Directorate of Operations, spread from Japan to Jericho, ladling out money in attempts to manipulate elections, individuals, institutions. This country cannot afford and doesn't need a secret intelligence budget of some $35 billion a year.
Most of all, we must put an end to CIA arrogance under which faceless operatives, accountable to virtually no one, assume a right even to manipulate U.S. policies, foreign and domestic.
President Clinton and some of his top aides have tried to end the practice of allowing those who gather intelligence, often flawed, to have a role in national-security policy decisions. But this president apparently was unable to stop the CIA's semi-surreptitious, nation-dividing propaganda regarding Haiti.
While he was trying bravely to build support for restoring to power the democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the CIA was brazenly leaking its line that Father Aristide was a murderous psycho.
CIA agent Aldrich Ames was able to sell some of this nation's most precious secrets to the Soviet Union, causing the executions of several U.S. agents and informants, because there is so much secrecy at the CIA that no one really knows who is doing, or not doing, his job. Amid so much visible evidence of Ames' unexplainable wealth, his drunkenness, his emotional instability, no one became suspicious enough to ferret him out as a treasonous ''mole.'' A strange colony of people were so caught up in their bunker culture of mutual protections and cover-ups that they quaked at the idea of fingering one of their tribe.
But what about those ''overseers'' in Congress? They have always been toadies who turn spineless when told that they must muzzle themselves, or turn a blind eye to misfeasance and malfeasance -- ''in the national interest.''
The CIA could be cut by more than half, in both funds and personnel, without diminishing this country's security one whit. In fact, we would become more secure because we would reduce the CIA's capacity for setting Americans against Americans.
Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.