A new Central Intelligence Agency appointment has gone virtually unnoticed among the public at large but is being widely applauded among US government intelligence experts.
Vice-Adm. Robert R. Inman, now chief of America's largest intelligence organization, the supersecret National Security Agency (NSA), has been chosen by President Reagan to take the No. 2 position at the Central Intelligence Agency.
Among intelligence insiders, the publicly anonymous three-star admiral is considered America's "hottest" intelligence officer. Most of what Vice-Admiral Inman accomplished at the NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., 15 miles north of Washington, remains shrouded in secrecy. But in closed testimony over the past 3 1/2 years, the bespectacled, youthful-looking admiral has impressed senators and congressmen with the effectiveness of the NSA's many electronic listening posts around the world. With 20,000 employees, the NSA has more personnel and a larger budget than the CIA.
The NSA was created 28 years ago to intercept the messages of foreign governments, and it is believed to have broken more than half of the world's existing governmental codes. Until the Soviets caught on, the NSA was reputed, among other coups, to have developed a system whereby it listened to telephone conversations between Soviet leaders in the Kremlin and other top Soviets driving in their chauffeured limousines around Moscow. During the mid- 1970s, the NSA suffered a brief period of notoriety when it was learned that, at executive branch instruction, it had eavesdropped on American citizens.
Inman is known to believe in competition in the analysis of intelligence, and this is something the Reagan administration is pledged to pursue. According to one report, the Defense Department wanted him to take over the Defense Intelligence Agency, but new CIA chief William J. Casey, insisted he was needed there instead.
Because of his experience in dealing with technological and electronic side of intelligence collection, "Bobby" Inman complements Mr. Casey. Casey's most active involvement in intelligence work was during World War II, when he was i n charge of dropping agents into Nazi Germany.