Is the CIA too focused these days on supporting the military?

For those in diplomatic circles and on Capitol Hill who think the answer is yes, a new legal restriction on intelligence support for State Department officials underscores a growing contention that military commanders do well and diplomats make do.

The restriction, inserted into the fiscal 2000 intelligence authorization act passed last week, prohibits U.S. diplomats from creating Diplomatic Intelligence Support Centers (DISCs)--formed with personnel from the CIA, National Security Agency and other intelligence organizations--without approval of the director of central intelligence.

A DISC was set up in Sarajevo to handle the Bosnia crisis and worked well. But House-Senate negotiators added the language in conference after a State Department official tried to establish another such center earlier this year in Kosovo over the CIA's objection, even though identical National Intelligence Support Teams (NISTs) are automatically created for Pentagon theater commanders in crisis situations.

State's logic: Diplomacy requires the same intelligence support as a military command in peacekeeping operations. But conferees had little love for State's demand for intelligence help and wrote in their report that creation of such diplomatic support teams is "unwise." They suggested State deploy analysts from its Bureau of Intelligence and Research when needed.

A senior State Department official said Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet is trying to balance diplomatic and military needs. "But DISC vs. NIST is a good example of the difference," the official said. "It doesn't seem to be one size fits all."

An intelligence official denied there was any CIA tilt toward the military. "The DCI has got a very good working relationship with the secretary of state and the secretary of defense," the official said.

MOYNIHAN'S CALL: In an item last week on whether the CIA really missed calling the fall of the Soviet Union, intelligence historian Jeffrey Richelson opined that agency analysts had actually performed well. He blamed Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), the CIA's most vociferous critic, for spreading the erroneous notion that Langley blew it on the U.S.S.R.

Richelson's remarks came as CIA officials declassified 24 high-level intelligence estimates written from 1988 to 1991 showing that agency analysts had indeed foreseen economic and political upheaval in the Soviet Union.

Moynihan responded with an analysis he wrote for Newsweek in November 1979, six years before Gorbachev came to power. Moynihan's call:

"The Soviet empire is coming under tremendous strain. It could blow up. . . . Since 1920 the Communists have rather encouraged ethnic culture, while ruthlessly suppressing ethnic politics. It won't work."

WIZARD OF OZ: House intelligence committee Chairman Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) promises an assessment within four weeks on counterintelligence lapses in the government's Chinese espionage investigation.

The probe by FBI agents and former Department of Energy intelligence chief Notra Trulock came to focus on Wen Ho Lee, a Chinese American physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, despite an absence of evidence tying either Lee or the lab to classified warhead information apparently stolen by Chinese spies.

Goss said the panel's report will review all possible sources of the leaked data, including defense contractors. Goss, a former CIA operations officer, compared the Los Alamos probe to the "Wizard of Oz." Said Goss: "We went down the Golden Brick path, pulled back the curtain--and there's nothing there."

ANOTHER TAKE ON CHINA: Paul H.B. Godwin, an expert on China's defense and security policies recently retired from the National War College, offered his own assessment of Chinese espionage in the journal Current History, taking sharp exception to conclusions drawn in May by a House select committee chaired by Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.):

"China's theft of the W-88 design characteristics used for the [U.S.] Navy's Trident II missile warhead . . . does not allow its engineers to reconstruct the thousands of parts and electronic components that form the completed weapon," Godwin writes. "Even the computer codes China is said to have obtained are mathematical models . . . which cannot be used to design and manufacture a warhead. Chinese engineers may well have obtained some useful information, but they lack the data and experience required to design and build replicas of the sophisticated W-88 using the stolen information."

Vernon Loeb's e-mail is loebv@washpost.com; Walter Pincus's e-mail is pincusw@washpost.com