WASHINGTON — President Reagan on Tuesday named Frank C. Carlucci, a former top Pentagon and CIA official in both Republican and Democratic administrations, to replace Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter as his White House national security adviser.
Carlucci, who will become the fifth in a string of national security advisers under Reagan, was backed for the job by Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, Secretary of State George P. Shultz and CIA Director William J. Casey, according to Administration officials.
In naming him to the sensitive post, Reagan praised Carlucci for a "depth of experience in foreign affairs, defense and intelligence matters that uniquely qualify him to serve as my national security adviser."
The veteran of 26 years of government service was widely praised Tuesday as a skilled bureaucratic infighter and nonpartisan trouble-shooter under different presidents. And his reputation as a tough and aggressive leader could spell new problems for Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan, who has generally sought to establish unchallenged supremacy within the White House staff hierarchy.
At the same time, several officials questioned whether he would be able to restore the reputation of the National Security Council, which was seriously damaged by disclosures of the role of NSC aide Lt. Col. Oliver L. North in secretly diverting cash from Iranian arms sales to the U.S.-backed rebels fighting against the leftist government in Nicaragua.
Also, some right-wing conservatives are complaining about Carlucci's connection with the Jimmy Carter Administration, while other critics are raising questions about the recent operations of a unit of the Carlucci-run Sears World Trade Inc. that aided defense contractors with foreign arms sales.
Carlucci was selected over a handful of other finalists, including William G. Hyland, who was Regan's favorite, NATO Ambassador David Abshire and Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr.
Carlucci, 56, left the Reagan Administration in late 1982 to become president of the ill-fated Sears World Trade, which is being dissolved after failing in its effort to become a major global trading arm of Sears, Roebuck & Co.
"I don't think there's ever been anybody as well-prepared for that job" of national security adviser, said Curtis Hessler, a former Sears World Trade executive and Treasury Department official.
With his long personal relationship with Shultz and Weinberger going back to the Richard M. Nixon Administration, Carlucci "doesn't have to learn a new set of players," Hessler added.
"He'll be an honest broker between the competing bureaucracies, but I can't see him as having the intellectual capacity of somebody like Brent Scowcroft (President Gerald R. Ford's NSC chief) to bring a new perspective to the development of policy," said one former official who worked with Carlucci. The former official spoke only on the condition that he not be identified.
Carlucci began his government career 30 years ago as a Foreign Service officer in Africa and Brazil before being plucked from the State Department bureaucracy by his college friend, Donald H. Rumsfeld, to join the Nixon Administration in 1969 as deputy director of the anti-poverty Office of Economic Opportunity.
After succeeding Rumsfeld as head of the agency in 1970, Carlucci quickly became a protege of Weinberger in the Nixon Administration, serving as his top deputy when Weinberger headed the Office of Management and Budget and the old Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
In an unusual move, Carlucci also took a high-level post in the Carter Administration as deputy director of the CIA from 1978 to 1981 and then joined Weinberger again at the Defense Department at the start of the Reagan Administration, despite vigorous objections from Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and other conservatives that Carlucci had been tainted by his service to Carter.
The Senate Republican Steering Committee, an organization of conservative GOP senators, accused Carlucci of being "an obstruction, rather than an asset, to Reagan interests." While at the CIA, he actively supported guidelines that "enormously restricted intelligence collection," according to a paper prepared by the committee at the time of Carlucci's nomination to the post of deputy secretary of defense.
But Weinberger, a longtime Reagan ally, refused to accept the Pentagon job unless he could take Carlucci with him and managed to win his appointment after agreeing to accept a conservative favorite, Fred C. Ikle, as undersecretary of defense for policy.
On Tuesday, a conservative political activist for a private defense group said: "Conservatives are very upset with this choice."
Early in his career, in 1960, Carlucci proved his skill as a brave and forceful diplomat when he rescued a carload of Americans in what was then the Congo, now Zaire, from an angry mob after a traffic accident. Carlucci was slashed by a knife in the neck during the melee.