Turner probes secrecy at CIA

Secrecy and Democracy, by Stansfield Turner. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 288 pp. $16.95. An understanding of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has now, for the first time, been opened up to the American democracy and its public. After four years as director of the entire intelligence community, Adm. Stansfield Turner has written a book about the CIA in transition -- how and why.

``I hope this is a book,'' he writes, ``that accurately and honestly discusses the problems which are inevitable when an open and democratic society tries to carry out secret intelligence operations.'' He continues, ``This book, then, is about my experiences from 1977 to 1981, guiding American intelligence through change, trying to establish effective intelligence practices for the long term.''

President Carter, who put Admiral Turner in charge of intelligence, said to him, ``Stan, when you come up with your plan to reshape the intelligence community, be bold!'' He was.

One of Admiral Turner's most urgent concerns was to put the CIA's ``much criticized past'' behind. The American and foreign press and television were full of stories of intelligence misdeeds. The public was informed that some 300,000 Americans who were considered potentially dangerous to US security were indexed in a CIA computer. Separate files were created on 7,200 others.

The public also learned that many of these supposedly ``dangerous'' citizens were placed under surveillance without adequate justification, with bugs planted on their telephones and two-way mirrors put into their bedrooms. Individuals' tax returns were obtained and searched for information.

A previous director had asked every CIA employee to inform him of any improper intelligence activity. He compiled a list that ran to 683 pages. Those abuses were ironically called ``the family jewels.''

It might have happened that Admiral Turner would not have been allowed to write candidly in his book about misdeeds of the CIA staff. Although his writings were subject to censorship, many cases of wrongdoing inside the walls of the CIA are clearly described in the book.

One example Admiral Turner gives of the misuse of secrecy occurred when a committee of Congress was digging into certain unethical procedures within the CIA. It now appears that the agency buried the evidence in its archives. If the Turner rules persist, it will be very dangerous to bury evidence again.

All CIA employees are pledged to submit their writings to the CIA for security clearance. Turner's book was cleared after much negotiation. More than 100 deletions were made by the CIA reviewers, ``ranging from borderline issues to the ridiculous,'' according to the former director. He appealed many of these cuts, but obtained only three minor concessions. He said, however, that ``although I was greatly inconvenienced, the message of the book has not been vitiated. . . .'' His message is the importance of reconciling secrecy in collecting important intelligence with the openness of American democracy and its fair-minded standards of behavior.

Saville Davis is former Washington bureau chief and managing editor of the Monitor.

``I fully support the requirement for [the security] review. . . . What I object to is the way the present administration conducts its security reviews. There are two problems: timeliness and arbitrariness. The problem was that, as more and more former employees have taken to writing, the CIA has not assigned enough people to the review process. ``Arbitrariness is stemmed from an administration policy of drawing the line of secrecy on the overcautious side. . . . Clearly the Reagan administration does not understand that oversight of intelligence in our society includes constructive criticism from outsiders like me.

``The administration's response [to the manuscript] left me in a difficult position. I wanted neither to release secrets nor to appear to be releasing them. . . . Accordingly I decided not to include the material that the CIA objected to.

``It would be useful for the congressional committees to require the CIA to submit an explicit, written explanation of each deletion of material it demands. . . . The process of CIA security review needs review itself.''

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