Clinton's most troubled nomination Lake for CIA: National security adviser on griddle for failing to level with Congress.


GRANTED, the accused spy this time was out of the FBI, not the CIA. But two cases only a month apart of suspected turncoats within the intelligence community are bound to make the Senate more sensitive than ever about President Clinton's choice of national security adviser Anthony Lake to be director of central intelligence.

Republican senators are upset that Mr. Lake did not tell them about the administration's 1994 decision to give a green light to the supply of Iranian weapons to the Bosnian Muslims. He is telling lawmakers he made a mistake.

This is probably the minimum needed to save his nomination. The inherent tension between an open democracy and covert espionage operations is best eased when intelligence officials level with select members of Congress sworn to secrecy. Lawmakers do not take it lightly when they are by-passed, as was the case in the far more serious Iran-contra scandal in the Reagan administration.

In the Bosnia case, Mr. Lake could probably raise a good defense if he dared. For one thing, the international press was already speculating about a flow of Islamic-sourced arms to the Bosnian Muslims. Any lawmaker paying attention should hardly have been surprised. For another, there was agitation in Congress to have Washington renounce the U.N. weapons embargo against all parties to the Bosnian conflict so the Muslims could be armed. Thus, the Clinton administration, albeit surreptitiously, was aligned with strong sentiment on the Hill.

Another roadblock to Mr. Lake's nomination was his failure to divest himself quickly of energy stock holdings when he became national security adviser. He calls it an oversight.

Far more to the point is whether Mr. Lake is suited by personality and experience to head the troubled CIA. While he undoubtedly has been the nation's No. 1 "consumer" of CIA intelligence reports he reads before briefing President Clinton, he has had no direct responsibilities in the shadow world of covert operations. His strength is limited to the analysis side and, even there, at a distance. How will he deal with critical CIA reports on foreign policy decisions that he helped shape?

The arrest yesterday of a 13-year FBI veteran accused of selling secrets to the Russians for $224,000 is bound to focus more public attention on the penetrability of U.S. intelligence services by turncoats acting as Moscow moles. With the administration demanding greater cooperation rather than intense rivalry between the CIA and the FBI, this should be a major item on the Lake agenda.

Pub Date: 12/19/96

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