Spymaster Meets the People

Let us now hail the spymaster who decided to face his agency's critics in the open. And the congresswoman who labored to quiet an outraged crowd to let him speak after she ventured to invite him. We wish all Americans had been watching C-Span last week when CIA director John Deutch went to the Watts district in Los Angeles to take questions about the Central Intelligence Agency and the crack cocaine epidemic in that impoverished neighborhood.

Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald asked Mr. Deutch to meet her constituents in the midst of news reports and rumors about a CIA conspiracy allegedly causing that epidemic. The rumors made it part of a plan to finance US-supported contra rebels in Nicaragua. Talk radio and the Internet have kept the rumors alive, particularly among African-Americans.

One white member of the Watts crowd said he was a former police officer who could confirm some of the rumored activity. One question was why a superpower that could protect itself for years from the Soviet Union could not protect itself from third-world sources of drugs. The tone was sometimes hostile, with references to past medical experimentation on blacks and questions such as how can the CIA be trusted to investigate itself.

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To the latter, Mr. Deutch insisted the inquiry he has called for would be independent. Until its completion, he would not make a final judgment on the rumors. But he denied them so far: "We have no evidence of a conspiracy that the CIA was involved in drug trafficking. The CIA fights drugs, it does not encourage drugs."

He learned "just how important it is for our government and our agencies to stay in touch with the people."

Mr. Deutch has made a start at staying in touch as head of an agency notoriously shy of the sunlight. He even defied the no-no of saying whether a named individual was a CIA "asset."

We're sure he gave away no real secrets. But he offered an example of equability in the face of audience turmoil. Now he has to convince the public the "independent" investigation is really independent.

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