It is apparent that Stephen Korthals-Altes {letters, Jan. 17} has been dipping too much into the kinds of history books that rationalize the "glories" of spies and covert actions of the past. It is not only "idealistic college professors" who have suggested the elimination of the covert side of the CIA.

For decades, countless intelligence professionals -- from columnist Tom Braden, a former CIA official, through Ray Cline (in such works as "Secrets, Spies and Scholars") -- have urged reexamination of archaic assumptions about how security is achieved for a nation.

It is significant that many defenders of covert activities suggest that we emulate the KGB and totalitarian institutions of the past. In this day, it takes an especially narrow mind to believe that U.S. covert activities (the Defense Department's as well as the CIA's) do not produce a "rogue elephant" effect. Writing that "America's agency conducts its secret operations in Macy's window" is like saying that the tip of an iceberg is not evidence of considerably more under the surface.

Every nation needs carefully researched and analyzed information. Our nation is blessed in the variety of its research institutions and perceptive analysts. Many professionals have learned that information received from covert sources should be treated with considerable skepticism and that covert activities are appropriate only in very carefully selected instances. Present checks and balances have clearly proven themselves insufficient. GORDON A. CHAPMAN Silver Spring