The Cubans are in Angola. Somalis in the Ogaden. Katangans in Zaire. Rebels have invaded Chad. And now we're really in the soup - foreigners are confusing our flacks with our spooks.
The ICA, which is supposed to be clear and visible, is being mistaken for the CIA, which is supposed to be clear and invisible.
ICA is the acronym for the International Communication Agency, which came into being / April 1 as successor to the U.S. Information Agency, purveyor of the American Story overseas.
Under President Carter's reorganization plan, the State Department's cultural exchange programs, including the Fulbright scholarships, were transferred to USIA, which meant one thing for certain:
The old name - USIA - would never do. A list with scores of possible new names was drawn up. High-level people held meetings and debated the names.
An early winner was Agency for International Communication. But IAC spelled backwards is you-know-what, so that was rejected. ICA took its place and then the real confusion set in.
Foreigners are mistaking ICA for CIA. Overseas editorialists have poked fun. A professor on Taiwan wrote in to call us dumb for sowing confusion. Agency officials are dreaming up ways to advertise themselves without saying ICA.
The time-honored way to deal with these things is to pass a law, which is exactly what Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.) is proposing to do, changing ICA's name for the second time in less than three months.
John Reinhardt, director of the ICA, doesn't like the McGovern proposal one bit. He agrees that not everyone likes ICA, but to change the name again would create "incalculable confusion."
But McGovern is undeterred. He is pushing ahead with his proposal, already approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to change ICA to the U.S. Agency for Information and Cultural Exchange. So the ICA, nee USIA, would become USAICE.
"The name question is not frivolous or trivial," McGovern said. As he sees it, he says, ICA needs a name that "clearly and attractively conveys its purpose."
In McGovern's view,administration concerns over possible embarrassment to this country from another change don't carry much weight.
"Much more serious would be the constant embarassment of retaining a name which nobody can understand, which is frequently confused with the CIA and which detracts from activities of considerable importance to the United States," McGovern said.
A Senate Foreign Relations Committee aide, John Ritch, said that numerous examples of confusion between ICA and CIA have come to the committee's attention.
"People trying to reach ICA get hooked up with the CIA in Washington. ICA people around the world are introduced as CIA people or mistaken for agents," he said.
The commitee is polling members of Fulbright Scholarship commissions around the world - made up of Americans and foreign nationals - and finding that they all agree that ICA is a cause of unhappy confusion.
"ICA argues that a change would be embarrassing and cause extra cost ($175,000 for new stationery and plaques). When set against a clear, intelligible name, we think that is minimal."
Paul Rappaport, a spokesman for ICA, said the agency would just as soon see the Senate leave things as they are. But he conceded that confusion is rampant.
"To someone who is not familiar with us, they might think we are not a United States agency," he said. "But the CIA is known to millions of people and we have the same letters and they become confused."
Even in the old days, when ICA was the USIA, it was hard enough to convince skeptics that USIA officers weren't connected to the CIA. "I was accused of being CIA in Italy - and I never was," Rappaport said.
"We constantly have to deny that we are related to the CIA or that we are cover for the CA."
The last has not been heard of this matter. The Senate will get a chance to debate it when the State Department-ICA authorizing bill reaches the floor in the near future. And then it will go to the House.
Is that clear?