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CIA on Hold

January 04, 1987

If these were ordinary times, and if you were the President, and if your director of central intelligence were in the hospital with brain cancer, you would after a decent interval go out and get yourself a new director.

But these aren't ordinary times, and President Reagan is in no ordinary position. William J. Casey and the Central Intelligence Agency are so entangled in the Iran deception that, it is suggested in Washington, getting a new director might be harder than letting CIA Deputy Director Robert M. Gates continue to run the show as the acting director.

A new director would mean Senate hearings on his nomination, whether Reagan elevated Gates or chose someone from outside--if he could get someone of stature to agree to serve the two years left in the President's term. Hearings would mean protracted discussion of the Iranian mess, and the \o7 contra\f7 mess, and the covert wars that the CIA has been supporting around the world. The country would be well served by such an airing, but you can imagine why the White House is less than enthusiastic at the prospect.

What the President probably wishes he could have is another Casey, a political operator with spy experience close to the President and close to the President's age. That he can't have, because there aren't any more, and that's good for the country.

In any case Gates may be as good as any and better than some. The main job of the Central Intelligence Agency is intelligence, and it needs rather desperately a disinterested professional at the helm. Gates is a professional who came up on the analytical side of the CIA, not the covert-operations side. It would probably be too much to ask that he or another new director tell Reagan that these counterrevolutionary crusades do more damage to the United States than do the regimes against which they are aimed, but a professional new chief might at least counsel some restraint.

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