Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cabinet Rank for CIA Would Distort Its Role

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cabinet Rank for CIA Would Distort Its Role

Article excerpt

IT is a thoroughly bad idea to give cabinet rank to John Deutch, President Clinton's nominee to be the director of central intelligence (DCI). He should not be the equal of the secretaries of state and defense. The proper role of the secretaries and of the president is to make policy. The proper role of the DCI is to provide the factual basis on which a policy can be constructed.

One of the reasons for having the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the first place was to provide independent intelligence analysis by an agency with no bureaucratic commitment to a given policy. The only time the DCI had cabinet rank -- William Casey in the Reagan administration -- the commitment to a policy was so great that it resulted in the Iran-contra scandal.

The secretaries of state and defense are among the officials who are supposed to oversee the CIA. That job is difficult, at best, and it becomes more difficult if the DCI is the equal and not the subordinate of the secretaries. Two recent incidents, one in France and one in Guatemala, provide clear evidence of the difficulty and importance of oversight.

The problem in France was blown somewhat out of proportion by surfacing during a French political campaign. But this underlines the importance of the basic question: What is appropriate clandestine collection of economic intelligence? Most economic data is published; there is no need for clandestine collection. Valuable information that is not published includes negotiating positions with respect to trade agreements. It's appropriate to collect this.

What's not appropriate is industrial espionage -- trying to learn trade secrets of foreign businesses. Is Volkswagen developing a more fuel-efficient engine? Is Matsushita on the verge of a computer breakthrough? Such intelligence would be of great interest to the United States automobile and computer industries. But the CIA ought not to collect it for them. Would the CIA share it with all US companies, or would it play favorites? …

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