Washington — In coming years, the United States is likely to face a new Soviet leadership which is ''more sophisticated and subtle'' in its attempts to extend Soviet influence, according to the director of the US Central Intelligence Agency.
But CIA director William J. Casey also says he believes that despite traditional caution, the Soviets might be willing to take some risks in order to extend their influence to one of the world's geopolitical prizes - Iran. And, he added, the United States will not tolerate a Soviet invasion of Iran.
''They are already right there on the Iranian border, but they've been told we wouldn't stand for that,'' Mr. Casey said in a Monitor interview. His warning was apparently made in reference to Soviet army divisions which have long been deployed near the Iranian border.
Casey says he believes that in the realm of terrorism, the US must be prepared to counter ''far more lethal forms of violence,'' including more sophisticated and powerful bombs and possible attacks on nuclear power installations.
The CIA chief earlier this year had maps prepared which show a sharp increase in Soviet influence in the world over the decade between 1972 and 1982. But Casey also pointed to some enormous problems which the Soviets will have to cope with, for some time to come, both at home and abroad.
Speaking to this reporter at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., Casey pointed to economic failure in Poland, the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Eritrea, and the failure of the Soviets to deliver significant economic assistance to their third world friends as long-term problems bedeviling the Soviets.
Although he has expanded the CIA's intelligence coverage to deal with a number of new problems, Casey still clearly views the Soviet Union as the main ''target'' for American intelligence gathering. He did not go into speculation about who the top Soviet leaders might be once President Leonid Brezhnev passes from the scene. But he seemed to inclined to the view that the next generation of Soviet leaders will place great emphasis on lulling the West through a variety of subtle overtures.
Some observers see this coming in the form of an accommodation by the Soviets on Afghanistan, which would permit a Soviet troop withdrawal from that country.
The CIA director asserted that intelligence analysts needed to study more intensively the Soviet economy and the Soviets' military-industrial complex.
Casey was asked about reports that there was a drop in morale among the CIA's analysts of Soviet affairs, particularly when they were moved temporarily from the main CIA headquarters at Langley to other quarters some distance away.
''I don't say that there aren't morale problems,'' Casey replied. ''But morale is generally high, because we're seen to be doing work which is needed and appreciated.''
''Our people are being supported with additional appropriations and in other ways,'' said Casey, adding that the Soviet analysts would be moved back to the main headquarters following the now completed reorganization of the CIA's analytical system.
The Soviet analysts, he said, are ''doing good work, and they're working productively.''
The following is excerpts from an interview with Casey:
If you looked at things from the Soviet point of view and you looked ahead, things would not look all that rosy, would they?
We had a study done on the degree of Soviet influence around the world. We compared 1982 with 1972. We found that there had been a sharp increase in the number of countries under heavy Soviet influence, depending on the Soviets for arms, or facing insurgencies supported by the Soviets, Cuba, Libya, and South Yemen.
But the Soviets have a lot of problems. The command economy has failed in Poland. The Soviets have got their hands full in Afghanistan. The Soviets can usually deliver military assistance to their allies, but they don't deliver economic assistance to the extent promised. Of course, we don't do as much as we ought to in the way of economic assistance. We've got ourselves into a position where most of our security and economic assistance goes to a very few countries.
In Africa, the Soviets have had a hard time reaching very far. Down in southern Africa, they are in Angola. They are in Mozambique. They have an arms relationship with Zambia. They threaten Zaire.
In Ethiopia, the Soviets haven't done too well. The Ethiopians have knocked themselves out, with Soviet backing, trying to beat down the insurgency in Eritrea, but they haven't succeeded.
How close did the Soviets come to invading Poland?
If I had to speculate, I would say that the Soviets felt they would lose politically in Europe, there would be strong resistance and a lot of bloodshed if they went in. We figured that they would probably go for an internal crackdown in Poland.
How good was American intelligence on this?
We had very good sources and we did know how they planned to invoke martial law. When it came to the timing, the Poles themselves probably didn't know until the last minute exactly when the go signal would be given, and when they would cut the telephone wires and start to crack down.
What about Soviet influence in Central America? Aren't there some indications that the flow of arms to El Salvador from Cuba and Nicaragua has been reduced?
It's been reduced a little, but there's now an attempt to destabilize Costa Rica, mostly in the form of organization, training, and sabotage, and Costa Rica has no army.
In El Salvador, there's an effort now by the guerrillas - after the elections - to show that they're still there.
In Guatamala, the government is dealing with the insurgency. But the pressure in Honduras is very high, because the Cubans and the Sandinistas can't tolerate a successful democratically elected government functioning on their doorstep.
Do the Soviet Union's economic problems mean they will have to cut back somewhere? On defense? On their efforts to extend their influence abroad?
A tighter economic situation never seemed to restrain them much before. I think they are under pressure. There's probably a bottom to the barrel somewhere. But they keep spending billions to keep Cuba and Vietnam afloat and continue to come up with a wide range of new weapons systems.
The President said recently that the Soviets hadn't expanded into an extra square inch anywhere in the world since this administration came to office. Do you think that one of the problems for the Soviets has been their preoccupation with the transition to a new leadership? And what kind of new leadership can we expect? Is it likely to be more aggressive or less aggressive?
I think that it (the new Soviet leadership) is likely to be more sophisticated and subtle in extending its influence. It won't change its aims but is likely to work in a quieter way.
Some experts think that having failed recently to exert much influence in Lebanon, the Soviets are going to redouble their efforts to gain influence in Iran. Would you agree that such a thing might occur?
They will continue to try to position themselves to move when the situation is ripe. There was a time when it looked like Iran was falling apart. Now it looks like it's pulling together.
In Lebanon, the Soviets did badly. They got clobbered. In Iran, the Soviets have plenty of reason to give us trouble. It's a major geopolitical prize. It commands the Persian Gulf, and the Gulf is the fuel lifeline of the Western world. The Soviets have shown themselves to be reluctant to take risks. But Iran might be something they'd take a risk for. They are already right there on the Iranian border, But they've been told we wouldn't stand still for that.
A year ago, there was a lot of concern here about Libya and Col. [Muammar] Qaddafi. But it looks as though Libya has lost influence, particularly in Africa. How does that situation look to you?
The perception in Africa is that Libya has lost influence. Everybody thinks that the US embargo and all the diplomatic actions which were taken have set Qaddafi back. There's rising dissatisfaction inside Libya. Qaddafi's got his hands full.
Do you foresee an increase in terrorism in the coming years? And what about terrorism directed against Americans?
The Americans get blamed for everything. The Arabs think we control the Israelis. The black Africans think we can control what the South Africans do. So there's a tendency to take a shot at us. We have to be prepared for far more lethal forms of violence - attacks on nuclear installations and the planting of bombs of unprecedented power.
The President has indicated that there is Soviet influence in the nuclear freeze movements here and in Europe. Can you say anything about that?
There is a basic natural constituency of considerable size for these movements. I think that the Soviets have done their best to inflame and magnify them. There's a lot of evidence that the Soviets were active in the campaign against the neutron bomb and against the INF decision [the NATO allies' decision to deploy new intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Western Europe starting in December 1983]. Those movements have indigenous constituencies, but the Soviets know how to strengthen them and how to move propaganda around. I don't want to allege that the whole thing is a Soviet plot. But the Soviets whip it up. They've been caught doing this in Denmark. They've been caught in Holland. They put money into it. They've been caught circulating forgeries.
If you had to look ahead, what would you see as world trouble spots? Is there another Falklands crisis looming somewhere that's going to take most people by surprise?
I don't want to get into the business of listing trouble spots. But I'll say you have to keep a close watch on the Middle East, Iran, the Horn of Africa, and Central America.