Deutch, Freeh Learn a Hard Lesson

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JOHN DEUTCH and Louis Freeh, the new kids on the intelligence block, have gotten their first roughing up from the inbred fraternities they try to manage.

Mr. Deutch knew what he was taking on when he came into the Central Intelligence Agency to succeed James Woolsey, who had run afoul of Congress for perceived leniency toward more than 20 officers held responsible for the Aldrich Ames spy scandal. Now Deutch is in trouble with Congress for perceived leniency toward those, including two agency station chiefs, accused of holding too close their knowledge of a Guatemalan Army officer on the CIA payroll implicated in the murder of an American.

A 700-page report by CIA Inspector-General Frederick Hitz concluded that there were three years of ''management inattention,'' but no deliberate coverup.

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Sen. Arlen Specter (R), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, disputes that. He says there has been ''a deliberate withholding of information'' by the CIA. Now Deutch says he is reviewing the question of punishment.

Like Deutch, Louis Freeh came into office two years ago, faced with dealing with the fallout from episodes that had happened before his time. Mr. Freeh took the word of his longtime friend, Larry Potts, that there had been no coverup by bureau officers in the fatal standoff at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. He mildly censured Potts for inadequate management and promoted him to deputy director.

Now the house has fallen in on Freeh. Not only has he been obliged to pay Randall Weaver's family $3.1 million, but he has had to suspend Potts and three other senior FBI officers because of a Justice Department investigation of criminal obstruction of justice. It has to do with what happened to the evidence about who issued orders permitting FBI sharpshooters to shoot at unarmed people.

Does all this give you a deja vu feeling? In the mid-1970s the CIA was exposed as having engaged in everything from assassination conspiracies to drug experiments on unwitting people, then closing ranks to cover it up. The FBI was exposed as having conducted surveillance, wiretapping, break-ins, and efforts to destroy reputations of targets like Martin Luther King Jr., and then trying to cover it all up.

Then as now, uninitiated directors had to wonder whether the culture of intelligence, which is like a secret fraternity, was too powerful to tame. Now as then, John Deutch and Louis Freeh have to wonder whether, when they promise Congress accountability, they are in a position to deliver.

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