When it comes to the secrets of the CIA and the rest of the nation's intelligence agencies, Sen. Barry M. Goldwater (R-Ariz.) said, "There are many bits of information that I would just as soon not know."
As the prospective new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Goldwater, 71, is finally in a position to make his views stick.
The Reagan White House is not likely to complain. The incoming administration's plans for any new directions on the part of the U.S. intelligence community remain to be determined, but one thing appears certain: a new era of secrecy will be sought.
Some of the president-elect's top advisers on intelligence matters have been outspoken opponents of the Freedom of Information Act. A determined effort is expected to put most of the CIA's and many of the FBI's records beyond the reach of that law.
In addition, the Reagan administration appears likely to join the CIA and its congressional allies in trying to make it a crime to disclose the names of U.S. intelligence operatives who have been working abroad, even if the information comes from the public documents. The proposal is still pending in Congress, but disputes over its constitutionality make passage unlikely before the lame ducks go home.
As for other secrets, both the Senate and House Intelligence committees have built up formidable reputations in recent years for keeping them intact. A new congressional oversight law President Carter signed just last month elminates the need for intelligence agency disclosure to other committees. But Goldwater, for one, said in an interview that he still isn't quite satisfied.
"Some things get so damn hairy and involved," he said of U.S. intelligence operations. "Once you're told about them, you want to keep on knowing how they're going." In time, he said he feared, things could slip out.
In fact, sources say, Congress has not been told of a fairly broad array of clandestine operations over the past six years, despite a widespread impression that all of them had to be disclosed to eight separate committees.
Under the 1974 Hughes-Ryan amendment, which was supplanted last month, no covert CIA operation could be carried out unless the president made an explicit finding that "each such operation is important to the national security" and reported a description of the undertaking to the appropriate committees of Congress.
The requirement was soon turned into a loophole, sources say, when President Ford and later President Carter issued so-called "worldwide findings" declaring that any covert CIA operations to counter terrorism and narcotics traffic or to produce anti-Soviet propaganda were, on their face, important to the national security. Under this system, devised with the consent of key lawmakers, Congress need not be told of any particular activities under the overall headings until after they have been launched, and then only if Congress should ask about them.
The new law appears to require the eventual disclosure of all intelligence activities, but it restricts such reports to the two Intelligence committees, and it is so ambiguous, sources say, that it may require prolonged negotiations with the new administration to determine just what secrets it is willing to share.
"There's enough ambiguity in the law for the new administration to be able to turn on its head what the draftsmen really had in mind," said one source.
And since the Senate Intelligence Committee will have a Republican majority while the House committee will still be under Democratic control, the two committees may not agree on what they must be told. Goldwater has already indicated that he does not intend to be overly demanding.
"The administration will probably like the standards worked out with the Senate committee the best," one source predicted.
In another development, which seems likely to accelerate in the weeks ahead, the FBI has been meeting with key Senate conservatives such as Paul D. Laxalt (R-Nev.) and Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) for the last three to four months in an effort to win their approval of a new charter for the bureau. Important concessions, expanding the extent of FBI surveillances, appear to be in store.
"I imagine the American Civil Liberties Union will be less satisfied because of the changes," an FBI source said. "The ACLU would like to limit our discretionary powers by tightening the language to the point where we can investigate only where a crime is about to be committed . . . . I honestly don't think the changes will bring in [the investigation of] more groups.If the language were read in the broadest way, I guess you could go far. But we're not going to do that."
Sure [FBI Director William H.] Webster's a man of integrity. But he's not going to be there forever. If it's a charter that says in effect, 'trust the director' it's not worth the paper it's written on."
Despite such forebodings, no one is predicting that either spies or gumshoes are about to be unleashed with Reagan's inauguration. Many expect an eventual increase in the CIA's covert actions abroad, but insist they are likely to be cautiously and carefully plotted out.
"I think the people involved [with Reagan] have more sophistication than they're given credit for," one CIA veteran said. "They're not crazies, they're not going to carry Moral Majority into the Middle East . . . . If you have a more activist foreign policy, somewhere along the line there will be a look to determine if it needs more covert action . . . . But I don't see it becoming 'fast and loose.'"
At the CIA, the imminent departure of Adm. Stansfield Turner, who purged the ranks of clandestine service shortly after his appointment by President Carter, has provoked more cheers than tears.
"The agency will automatically improve by his leaving," said an aide to one Senate Intelligence Committee member. "He never understood what his mission was. He just didn't do a good job of learning how to get the confidence of the people in the agency."
Goldwater said he thought that assessment too harsh. He said Turner came to the agency "at an unfortunate time, and he did some unfortunate things." But the senator said he thinks Turner has been handling the job well recently.
Among those memtioned as possible choices for CIA director are Sen. Harry M. Jackson (D-Wash.); Adm. B. R. Inamn, head of the National Security Agency; Reagan campaign manager William Casey, who used to be with the old Office of Strategic Services, a predecessor of the CIA, and Laurence Siberman, the former deputy attorney general who began working at CIA headquarters Thursday as head of the Reagan transition's working team there.
"There's an awful lot of interest in Adm. Inman," Goldwater volunteered. "I think he's the most capable man in the field. I could put all my trust in him."
Contacted briefly at his new office, Siberman declined to discuss any new directions that might be in store for the intelligence community. He said it was simply too early to discuss the question. Silberman, however, did not disagree that the Freedom of Information Act would probably come under vigorous attack.
Other directions that might be explored perhaps can be gleaned from an August 1979 policy paper issued by the Republican National Committee and drawn up by a study group under Richard V. Allen, now Reagan's senior foreign policy affairs adviser. Allen is a leading candidate for the post of White House national security affairs adviser.
The study maintained that "debilitating political attacks" on the CIA and the FBI in recent years had hurt morale, reduced foreign confidence "in our ability to keep secrets" and led to massive intelligence failures. It suggested, among other steps, the creation of a new clandestine service separate from the CIA, increased competition among U.S. intelligence agencies in producing national estimates, and the appointment of a special White House adviser to replace the CIA director in collecting and coordinating the views of the various agencies.
"I believe in those things," Allen told a reporter last week. "I hope some day some of them could come to pass."
But he also called the study more of "a statement of desiderata" rather than a program for action. He also emphasized that it was not a Reagan campaign document.At the outset, he said "the Reagan administration probably won't do anything" in the intelligence field.
That may disappoint at least some Reagan supporters. Gen. Daniel Graham, formerly of the Defense Intelligence Agency and more recently a Reagan campaign adviser, said he feels strongly that the CIA needs more competition, in much the same way newspapers do.
"If you have only one outlet," Graham said, "you either homogenize intelligence because of bureaucratic pressures or it becomes dominated by the point of view of the officer in charge."
Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.) said he hopes this and several other features of a proposed GOP charter for the CIA that he has cosponsored will be incorporated in a new Reagan executive order for the intelligence community. He said he also hopes the new administration will take "a very, very serious look" at the idea of a separate agency for clandestine operations. v
"We're the only major power that has that [function] and intelligence analysis under the same rooftop," he said.
In some ways, in short, the CIA could be coming in for a critcal time in which it loses some of its prestige and prerogatives. Wallop said he also expects a "hard look at the personnel at the top of the intelligence ranks, particularly at those within the CIA who have been doing the estimating."
Voicing a similar sentiment, Goldwater said, "I think we have an excellent collection system. What we have to improve on is the assessment system. But we can't do that overnight. The assessor has to learn the hard way, which is the long way."