The CIA and truth

In today's world the United States is required to be able to gather intelligence swiftly and accurately about the activities of potentially hostile nations or groups abroad.

Yet intelligence-gathering activities have their limitations: Security for US installations overseas must go well beyond the collection of information. In areas of risk, such as Lebanon and other nations of the Mideast, adequate security should include properly trained armed guards, such as US marines, and sturdy gates and other barriers capable of keeping bomb-laden trucks out of embassy grounds.

In the Mideast the general threat to US facilities and individual Americans is both public and self-evident. No intelligence-gathering capacity is necessary to know that.

What is required are much stronger security measures than had been taken to protect the now-bombed annex to the US Embassy in east Beirut.

It was unhelpful for the Reagan administration to insinuate that the responsibility for the bombing lay with past, Democratically controlled Congresses and presidential administrations - with presidential aides evidently pointing to the Carter administration - on grounds that they had trimmed the CIA's intelligence-gathering activities. The potential of threat to the embassy annex was well known; it needed security, not intelligence gathering.

The American public has already made up its mind as to responsibility in Lebanon. A Harris survey taken after the bombing found a nearly 4-to-1 majority saying the attack was a serious setback for the US, with a 3-to-1 majority calling the administration policy in Lebanon a failure.

The administration's loose rhetoric on the question of embassy security is unfortunate. It cannot be permitted to embitter the bipartisan context for intelligence activities.

Intelligence gathering, like effective foreign policy in general, requires bipartisan support if it is to have the long-term backing, in and out of government, necessary for a good job to be performed. The president, whoever is in office, must have sound, accurate, and up-to-date information about many areas of the globe.

That is why it is disturbing to learn of the controversy involving the accuracy of a CIA report on Mexico. According to printed reports, the analyst who prepared it resigned in protest after having been told by the CIA director, William Casey, to revise his report so that it provided support for the administration's Latin America policy. If the printed stories are accurate, the evidence in effect was to be altered to fit a predetermined conclusion.

That is precisely what the role of intelligence gathering should not be. Rather, it should produce the raw material on which policy is based. The success of American foreign policy depends, in part, on the accuracy of the intelligence and analyses upon which it is based.

To say the least, it would be exquisitely difficult to base a successful policy on information tailored, for whatever reason, to what someone thinks national leaders want to hear.

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