Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) got Henry A. Kissinger bounced from a presidential panel and may do the same for John G. Tower.
The panel is the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB). It advises the president on whether he is getting quality, reliable information from his spy agencies. The panel members don't oversee those agencies, but they have security clearances. If they are close enough to the president, they can influence how he sets the national intelligence agenda.
Kissinger was on that panel until last February, when he resigned without explanation. We have learned that Helms led the secret opposition to Kissinger's place on the board and pressured President Bush to remove him. Helms did not like the fact that Kissinger, a paid Washington consultant for several countries and international corporations, had his fingers in the business world and the White House at the same time.
No one has proved, or even publicly alleged, that Kissinger used inside information from PFIAB to help clients. But Helms didn't like how things looked.
Kissinger has had a long association with Chinese business and government leaders. After the brutal Chinese suppression of the Tiananmen Square demonstration last June, Kissinger took a soft public stance on the issue. Worse, when Bush sent secret envoys to China, he chose two former employees of Kissinger's consulting firm -- national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger.
One PFIAB member, who is also a friend of Kissinger's, told us that PFIAB never advised Bush on Tiananmen Square because the issue there involved foreign policy, not intelligence. "So, whatever information Henry secured, he did not get it from PFIAB."
Such assurances did not convince Helms and others who wanted Kissinger off the board.
Helms's concentration on Kissinger temporarily deflected his interest from Tower. As we reported earlier, Bush put Tower on PFIAB as a consolation prize after the former senator from Texas couldn't get confirmed as secretary of defense.
Tower's confirmation hearings focused on allegations of womanizing, drinking and conflicts of interest because he served as a consultant to defense contractors. But behind the scenes, some members of Congress worried that Tower was a security risk. The Senate Armed Services Committee and a House panel secretly looked into allegations, for instance, that he had consorted with a Soviet KGB spy posing as a prostitute while serving as an arms control negotiator in Geneva.
We have learned that several GOP senators, Helms included, were so concerned that Tower had been compromised that they would likely have bucked Bush and voted against Tower's nomination for defense secretary if they hadn't been sure the Democrats would block the confirmation.
Helms was able to stick with the party line and vote for Tower's confirmation because the Democrats had the majority against Tower. But Bush is about to restructure the PFIAB, make Tower chairman and give every current member except Tower walking papers. Our sources say that if Bush tries to give Tower the job, Helms will protest.