WASHINGTON -- A former top U.S. intelligence official yesterday called for the Central Intelligence Agency to be stripped of its spying role and left with the sole job of analyzing information gathered by other government agencies.
Retired Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, former deputy director of the CIA and director of the National Security Agency, proposed that the job of recruiting agents abroad should go to a new agency, which he suggested could be called the International Operations Agency.
Appearing before a 17-member federal commission charged with making recommendations for the future of all intelligence agencies, Admiral Inman said the CIA's spying can skew its analysis because the agency naturally defends the information gathered by its agents.
"You want independent judgment of the reliability of the information collected," he said, noting that CIA analysts at times challenged reports from NSA but failed to apply the same scrutiny to intelligence gathered by their own agency.
Admiral Inman's proposal would radically alter the intelligence community by transferring control of all U.S. spies overseas, including the Defense Intelligence Agency, to the new agency.
"It will be expensive," he added. "You can't do effective clandestine collection on the cheap."
He also said the United States must put more emphasis on recruiting and training agents who work abroad under "nonofficial cover," posing as businessmen or engineers, for example, rather than diplomats.
Concentrating all U.S. agents in an embassy can be risky, the admiral said, noting that when militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the hostages included all the American spies in Iran. "We were essentially blind," he said.
Admiral Inman was one of a half-dozen former top government officials who suggested changes in the way the United States conducts its spying during a day-long hearing before the commission, headed by former Defense Secretary Harold Brown, who served under President Carter.
Yesterday's hearing was the only public session by the commission, which for the past year has held closed-door hearings, heard from scores of experts and visited other countries to study the management of spy services.
Mr. Brown said the commission will release its report before its March 1 deadline.
Both Mr. Brown and the commission's vice chairman, former New Hampshire Republican Sen. Warren Rudman, declined to give any indication of what changes they will propose, except to say they would be "controversial" and involve management, budget, personnel and technology issues.
"I think we will make some recommendations that will irritate some people," said Mr. Brown.
They would not say whether the commission was leaning toward a decrease or an increase in the spy community's estimated $28 billion annual budget.
While the witnesses devoted their time to discussing CIA and the military intelligence units, Mr. Rudman said the recommendations will also have an impact on NSA.
The agency, whose 20,000 employees at Fort Meade conduct global eavesdropping, is Maryland's largest employer and provides more than $700 million annually in contracts to companies in the state.
Despite the end of the Cold War, witnesses and commission members said global unrest shows the need for continued intelligence spending, particularly to support U.S. military operations.
"There's never been a greater need for a robust intelligence capability," said former Attorney General William P. Barr.
"We need a very strong covert-action capability."
Former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci also called for preserving a covert-action unit, saying that if the United States had engaged in timely covert action in Bosnia, "we might not have 20,000 troops there now."
Another witness, Joseph Nye, suggested removing the National Intelligence Council, a research group that provides intelligence information to all government agencies, from the CIA and revamping it as a "National Estimates Council."
It would provide more timely information and rely more on academics and other outside experts to keep track of trends and developments abroad.
Mr. Nye, former chairman of the NIC and now dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, said such a new organization can bring in academics and employees from other government agencies to distill information for policy makers.
"I get the impression that more and more valuable information comes from open sources," said Mr. Rudman, who said it was one of the commission's more important areas for discussion.
"So much of what we once called intelligence is open source."