Courtesy Reuters

Ethics and Intelligence

The three-year public agony of the Central Intelligence Agency may be coming to an end. Richard Helms has been convicted, the President has issued a new set of regulations restricting certain surveillance activities, and the torrent of public exposés by "insiders" seems to be abating. What remains to be seen is whether the traumas suffered since the sweeping congressional investigations began in 1975 have made any significant impact on the heart and guts of the Agency.

There are some suggestions, of course, that nothing much has changed. When Mr. Helms returned from receiving a suspended sentence, he was given a hero's welcome by an indulgent group of ex-colleagues. Simultaneously the announced intention of Admiral Stansfield Turner, the present Director, to reduce Agency operational personnel by several hundred was met by smear campaigns so powerful that the President soon felt obliged to publicly declare his continuing support for the Admiral. These responses from traditional intelligence officers may not be all that significant, however. Angry reactions to reductions in force are not, after all, new in Washington. Any pruning of career public servants can result in mid-level bureaucrats making high-level mischief.

The Helms case was quite another matter. Far from resolving any of the deeper issues of recent Agency conduct, it did not even address them. The case did, however, expose the persistent failure of several administrations to establish appropriate congressional arrangements for the exercise of intelligence operations. All postwar Presidents have permitted Directors of Central Intelligence to appear before congressional committees in the full knowledge that they would be closely questioned about secret operations approved and placed under tight security restrictions by the National Security Council. A long tradition had been built up over the years with the leaders of the Congress itself, that the facts concerning political operations (or clandestine intelligence operations) should be revealed only to selected members of Congress, and denied to formal committees at least in open session.

From time to time efforts were made by individual Presidents,

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