Last week, it was reported that Sen. Dave Durenberger had criticized the Central Intelligence Agency and its director, William Casey. Mr. Casey responded with an open letter to the senator. We asked the senator for his reaction. We print it below, along with the text of the Casey letter.

Careful reflection on the content of CIA Director William Casey's open letter to me as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee raises a very troubling issue for the American people. Casey's clear message is that, independent of the factual accuracy or inaccuracy of the Post article (Nov. 14) concerning my comments on the CIA, public criticism of the performance of the CIA compromises sources, damages morale and undermines our overall intellince capability.

In Casey's view, the cost of public discussion is simply too high, and therefore the public has no right to know how effectively the CIA does its job as part of the oversight process. Quite the contrary, he feels that oversight must be confined to discussion between the Intelligence Committee and the director behind the closed doors of our hearing room. Otherwise, we are told, there is repeated compromise of sources and methods.

Clearly, we all oppose the irresponsible use of one's knowledge of intelligence. Disclosure of certain facts can reveal the source of those facts. Careful, formal procedures must be followed in disclosing classified information. Discussion of any intelligence matters for political support or personal publicity is irresponsible. The Intelligence Committee is the first to condemn such public discussions, whether they occur in Congress or in the administration.

But public discussion of intelligence does not necessarily mean disclosure of sensitive sources and methods.

There is no question that all public officials -- in Congress as well as in the executive branch -- who are provided sensitive intelligence bear a heavy burden. Their public statements on any foreign policy, economic or national security issue about which they have special knowledge must be delicately constructed to protect that information.

But this is not to say that those who have this information cannot or should not speak out on these issues. Intelligence is no exception. It is a subject of public knowledge and public discussion. Those of us who are part of that process can, and should, speak openly on the subject of intelligence, as Casey did recently in Time magazine on terrorism and intelligence, without compromising security.

The real issue with Casey is not that there were public statements, but that those statements were reported as critical. Casey would not have written that letter if the headline had been "CIA, Casey Praised by Hill Chairman." Public praise of the operations or analytical product evokes no public condemnation or charges of compromising sources and methods.

In short, the head of the U.S. intelligence community does not feel that the intelligence agencies should be accountable to the American people. It is exactly this attitude that has led to the past abuses and resulted in the institution of the oversight process within Congress. Whether Casey likes it or not, the public does hold the CIA accountable and the public must know the oversight process works.

It is encouraging to hear that Casey is pleased with the intelligence product and is satisfied with his long-range planning process. We on the Intelligence Committee have had many good things to say both publicly and privately on both of these subjects. Nevertheless, we also have concerns in both areas -- concerns that are not the result of "off-the-cuff," unsubstantiated conclusions. They are concerns based on four months of testimony before our committee by the policy makers and military officers who use national intelligence.

Intelligence is not an end in itself whose usefulness is based on self-evaluation. The ultimate judgment must rest with those who use the product. National intelligence is a service organization, and the director should welcome constructive comments designed to improve that service.

The intelligence agencies are also accountable for the conduct of their operations. They cannot simply invoke "sources and methods" to make Congress remain silent in the face of extensive public discussion -- often fueled by executive branch disclosures -- of allegations of mismanagement, as in both the Edward Lee Howard and Vitaly Yurchenko cases. If the American people are to know that the oversight process is working, they must be kept informed. Indeed, when one stifles the disclosure of things that can safely be said in public, the result is often an outpouring of leaks that are infinitely more damaging to U.S. intelligence than is a bit of criticism.

Although the Intelligence Committee does much in complete secrecy, we also speak publicly. We do it when necessary. When we do, we are careful in our statements, measured in our criticism, generous in our praise, protective of sensitive information but mindful of our responsibility to the American people. We intend to continue this policy.