Democratic presidential nominee Walter F. Mondale charged yesterday that revelations of unheeded intelligence warnings made just before two of the fatal bombings of U.S. facilities in Beirut provide "growing evidence that no one was in charge" of American foreign policy and security.
"Recommendations were made; they were disregarded. The president himself had been requested to take steps that weren't taken," Mondale said during an interview on Cable News Network.
"I don't recall any time in modern history where we've had one right after another of the identical threats, the identical acts, and steps not taken," he added. "Who's in charge?"
The interview was Mondale's only public event of the day, as he met with top advisers to prepare for Sunday's debate with President Reagan. Mondale chose to skip last night's Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner in New York, a decision that caused some controversy in that state.
Mondale used the security lapses to raise the issue of presidential competence, saying that Reagan is "not applying himself to know the essential facts that are required for command."
Campaigning in Spokane, Wash., Vice President Bush denied that the White House had ignored intelligence reports about possible terrorist attacks. "You get tons of intelligence coming in. You get a lot of intelligence, some of it hard, some of it unreliable," Bush said.
Mondale's attacks yesterday were prompted by two new reports. One, published in yesterday's Washington Post, said that the U.S government had intelligence warnings prior to last month's bombing of the U.S. Embassy annex that explosives had been shipped to Lebanon and targeted against American Embassy personnel.
Another, in The Nation magazine, said Reagan ignored CIA warnings and the advice of Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger to move Marines from their base at Beirut International Airport, where 241 were killed in a truck-bomb attack. The recommendation was made five days before the Oct. 18, 1983, explosion.
A third intelligence revelation also drew Mondale's ire yesterday: the disclosure of a CIA document instructing rebels in the techniques of political assassination.
Mondale said such a document would "deprive the United States of its moral authority" and give the Sandinistas and Soviets a propaganda boon. He said it was further proof that the "whole illegal, covert war in Nicaragua has been counterproductive."
He declined to say if he thought the document violated CIA rules against participation in assassination, noting only that it "violates common sense."
Addressing himself to foreign policy questions as he prepares for Sunday's televised debate, Mondale also said that "one cannot tell" whether Soviet President Konstantin U. Chernenko's overtures in a recent interview with The Washington Post offer hope for progress on arms control. He said it is up to the sitting administration to determine if such general statements provide openings for new dialogue.
Mondale spent most of the day in his Cleveland Park home boning up on foreign policy issues with advisers David Aaron, a former deputy director of the National Security Council; Walter Slocombe, a former deputy undersecretary of defense; Barry Carter, a former NSC staffer; Lewis Kaden, a law professor; Michael Sovern, president of Columbia University, and several of his top campaign aides.
Aaron said Mondale would try to keep the debate focused on his argument that the "unbridled" arms race had made the world less safe, and that Reagan's proposal to introduce nuclear weapons into outer space would make the risk of war even greater.