WASHINGTON — FRIENDS and colleagues of John Deutch, the man President Clinton tapped over the weekend to head the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), describe him as a bright, decisive, no-nonsense administrator. It is these characteristics that he will probably need most if he is to survive the Senate confirmation process -- a likely prospect, most agree -- and take the helm of the beleaguered spy agency.
Mr. Deutch was chosen after Michael Carns, a retired Air Force general whom Mr. Clinton chose for the post last month, abruptly withdrew his nomination on Friday, citing ''venomous and abusive'' charges made against him in the Senate Intelligence Committee, where his confirmation hearings were pending.
General Carns was another in the lengthening list of Clinton administration appointees who have faltered on the bumpy road to Senate confirmation. But Mr. Clinton responded immediately to Carns's withdrawal by nominating Deutch, the second-ranking official at the Defense Department, to head the CIA.
In a written statement released by the White House Saturday, Clinton accepted Carns's withdrawal with ''profound regret'' and praised Deutch as a ''dynamic, brilliant leader with all the necessary skills for this crucial assignment.''
At the Defense Department, in a close working relationship with defense secretary William Perry, Deutch succeeded in restoring discipline to the largest agency in the federal government.
Deutch would take over the CIA at a time when it is struggling with an identity crisis. Until the end of the cold war, its principal mission was to keep tabs on the Soviet Union. Its priorities now include threats posed by terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and pariah nations like Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.
The Belgian-born Deutch was asked to be director of central intelligence when R. James Woolsey resigned unexpectedly in December amid intense criticism of his handling of the Aldrich Ames spy affair. Deutch declined then, but Clinton's new offer in the wake of Carns's withdrawal was sweetened with a promise that the CIA director's job would be elevated to Cabinet rank. Deutch will now have direct access to the president, and will be, Clinton said, ''a full member of my national security team.''
One attribute colleagues say would likely serve Deutch well at the CIA is tenacity. Paul Gray, chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where Deutch served as provost and long-time chemistry professor, cites an accident in 1985 when then-provost Deutch was hit by a truck and spent most of the next year in a cast and wheelchair. It ''would have taken the starch out of most people,'' says Dr. Gray, but Deutch continued to run MIT as ''the most effective academic manager'' the school has seen in years.
Deutch's quick appointment may spare Clinton some of the embarrassment of having yet another high-level appointee forced out during the Senate confirmation process.
Carns acknowledged that he and his wife had unintentionally violated US immigration laws in helping a young Filipino named Elbino Runas, who lived with the Carns family in the Philippines during the 1980s, come to the United States as a member of their household.
Carns complained of ''outrageous'' personal charges by Mr. Runas against members of his family. He said he had tried to help Runas escape a life of poverty in the Philippines and had decided to withdraw because his mishandling of Runas's visa ''calls into question my competence for the job'' of CIA director.
Three other Clinton appointees, including Attorney General-designate Zoe Baird in 1993, also ran afoul of immigration or labor laws as employers of immigrants working as domestic laborers.
Deutch, whose confirmation is expected to be swift, has served as undersecretary of both the Energy Department and the Defense Department, where he has had wide exposure to the US intelligence community.