Intelligence professionals say their work is based on files. Any lawyer could say the same, but intelligence files beggar description. The ideal file on Soviet political personalities--the CIA has been building one for more than 40 years--would contain every Soviet official, from the lowest provincial party functionary up to Politburo members. Every step of every career would be included. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of individuals. Concealed in this data would be interesting patterns, such as the personal doom that follows an assignment in agriculture, which eats Soviet political careers the way nuclear-waste management does those of Americans. Since next to nothing is known about Soviets' personal lives, factions can only be spotted by the advancement of officials in groups following each other up the ladder.
Intelligence officials not only collect this stuff in vast quantity, they know it backward and forward. Each image interpreter who handles the vast take of reconnaissance satellites--a major source of U.S. intelligence on the Soviet Union-- has a specialty, railroad marshaling yards, say, or the activity of petroleum drilling rigs. They look at successive images, week after week, year after year; when a new shed goes up, they know.
So it goes with every specialty, from radio traffic of Soviet missile fields to the movements of diplomats thought to be KGB officers. The latter is now a sophisticated art. When a Soviet diplomat boards a train or plane, that goes into the computer. So do his phone calls. Computers are ideal for spotting patterns. If Sergei makes the occasional trip to Paris, but each one follows a trip by Ivan to Brussels, questions will be asked. Intelligence officers are obsessed with what adversaries are up to. They are good at spotting the wince when a point has been scored. But this anatomists's knowledge of adversaries is poor preparation for the broader goals of international politics.
Obsession with detail is no help to a national leader; neither is a career shrouded in secrecy. This is only partly because secrets can be dangerous. J. Edgar Hoover kept his job as FBI director, for example, largely because the men who reappointed him over a 50-year period had a healthy fear of what he had been collecting in his notorious "do-not-file" file. Andropov had something on everyone when he moved to the Kremlin, and his colleagues knew it. The CIA is not supposed to gather information on U.S. political figures but any agency monitoring the international movement of money and information is going to learn a great deal about official Washington and sequester it in do-not-file files. Official Washington is going to think twice about the meaning of the studied gaze of anyone who ever handled those files.
But the best reason to keep intelligence officers out of politics is to preserve the integrity of intelligence. During the Vietnam War, the CIA often twisted itself into an analytical pretzel to avoid saying that bombing North Vietnam would not "work" when President Lyndon B. Johnson was trying to persuade the country it was going to work fine. For his first year or two in office, President Ronald Reagan had the CIA tied in knots trying to prove the Soviet Union was behind international terrorism. The agency dragged out studies till the White House didn't care, then admitted in a whisper the case couldn't be proved. The common plaint of intelligence officers is that people don't want to know; what they don't want to know changes with administrations.
Intelligence agencies have a tough time holding up the flag for simple truth and often fudge under pressure. But once agencies were seen as a stepping stone to higher office, the battle would be lost. The rise of Bush does not make it routine; he ran the agency for such a brief period and seems to have carried away from the job the same gee-whiz attitude he brought to it. But his long delay in making up his mind about Eastern Europe seems to betray the intelligence officer's instinctive suspicion that it may all be a trick--better wait till the last bit of evidence has been secreted in the files.
The fate and independence of East Germany matters a great deal to the Soviets and they may convince themselves that their intimacy with Wolf makes him just the man to guide the decrepit party through the shoals. Accustomed to following orders, the party may succumb. But the East Germans have already voted with their feet on the question of government by police; it is hard to imagine they will find much to cheer in a man whose boldest claim is that he had private misgivings during a long career--please, no details--of treating Germans as enemies.