A LOT OF people at the CIA have never been reconciled to the increased burden of accountability that Congress imposed upon the agency in the mid-1970s. They see leaks and loss of effectiveness as the price of having to tell legislators about covert action, and they don't like being open to a new and, to them, suspect host of kibitzers. Liberation of the CIA from these procedures stood high among the national security goals Ronald Reagan proclaimed in 1980. He has since, wisely, found more pressing tasks, but distaste for oversight lingers. It's been evident in recent outbursts by CIA Director William Casey.
The reformers had hoped that a nonpolitical intelligence professional would run the CIA. They had in mind someone like William Webster, the nonpartisan judge who took over the FBI, or Bobby Inman, for a while Mr. Casey's deputy. President Reagan, however, chose his campaign director, who has since made himself known, in part by public statements, as an advocate as well as an operator of expanded CIA covert actions.
Several instances have come to light in which Mr. Casey had to be reminded of his statutory obligation to brief Congress in a full and timely fashion. Recently the CIA's competence was called into doubt in the fiasco of Vitaly Yurchenko's "defection." It was not simply that the agency rather publicly exulted in an intelligence coup that turned to dust. Central to the conservative indictment of the 1970s was the charge that human intelligence had been downgraded in favor of technical intelligence, the collection of information by spy satellites and the like. Here their man blew the case of a live agent.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dave Durenberger has gone on to question the quality of the CIA's intelligence product. Outsiders cannot really tell whether the analyses are sufficiently farsighted, perspicacious and free of political bias. But though it ruffles Mr. Casey, there can be no harm in keeping the thinkers on their toes. Before the current flap, Sen. Durenberger reported that Mr. Casey had "indicated his support" for a committee plan to check on the CIA's system of looking ahead. Presumably, that support still holds.
Does all this make a case for Mr. Durenberger's inclination to restrict the CIA director to an intelligence role? In the original 1947 National Security Act, intelligence was given a place behind, not at, the policy table, performing a service function as a supplier of information. In this tradition, Mr. Durenberger sees intelligence as a "service organization" and advises the director to "welcome constructive comments designed to improve that service." The administration has another view. It is an explosive issue, one unlikely to yield to the equisite consensus while disputes on oversight rage.