The CIA's peace role Mideast peacekeeper: Hard look and tough questions are needed about agency's new task.

November 07, 1998

THE CENTRAL Intelligence Agency is desperately in search of a new role.

By becoming peacekeeper between Israelis and Palestinians, the agency would go a long way toward mitigating its indecorous past. It is a good place to start for an outfit that has caused domestic headaches and foreign embarrassments.

The Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Richard C. Shelby Alabama, expressed concern about the designated role and said he will hold hearings. They should be substantive; neither the agency nor the White House should alone define the future of an agency that, at times, has seemed a government unto itself.

Director George J. Tenet, former Director Robert M. Gates and other supporters have tried to make the CIA out as a benign participant in past peace efforts. But the agency's sins are many.

It has been involved in the toppling of governments and the deaths of such figures as Mohammed Mossadegh, Patrice Lumumba and Salvador Allende. The CIA has supported right-wing dictators and trained death squads and terrorists in Central America, Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The agency's intelligence gathering, or lack thereof, was evident in the Soviet Union's collapse, the Bay of Pigs and India's nuclear weapons testing. Its embarrassments include Iran-contra and routinely misleading the people and Congress about its role in Honduras, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.

Indeed, the CIA's role needs to be redefined for the next century. Hearings could bring many questions and issues into focus. For example, should a spy agency, whose role as an intelligence gatherer involves practicing deception, be asked to act as a peacekeeper? How public can it be? And can one place trust in an agency whose role is collecting data covertly, not mediating an ages-old dispute in the Middle East?

If coming out of the cold means no future surprises and embarrassments, fine. If it means a more open agency that will allow, for example, a look at a budget that it has always guarded zealously, then let's talk about it.

Pub Date: 11/07/98

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