Spies: choose with care

The Reagan administration has acted with appropriate dispatch in accepting the resignation of the CIA's chief of clandestine operations, Max Hugel, after former business associates accused him of improper stock market practices. One of the accusers said he had left a message warning the White House against appointing Mr. Hugel to the sensitive post -- but had never heard back. Whatever the circumstances, the lesson is to tighten up on appointment procedures.

For one thing, it is essential that all information be unearthed that might subject a spy chieftain to blackmail threats. Mr. Hugel reportedly now says he had received such threats in the past, though he did not disclose them to the CIA during his security clearance.

A Reagan aide noted that Mr. Hugel had not been chosen by the President but by William Casey, director of the CIA. Mr. Casey himself is burdened by a federal court judgment that he participated in an investment venture involving misrepresentation. The ruling is being appealed. Clearly Mr. Reagan -- and the public -- must be assured that the head of US intelligence does not have chinks in his credibility.

In the Hugel case the Reagan people, unlike some previous administrations, are not risking lingering damage by hanging onto an official under a cloud. The accusations against Mr. Hugel, which he has publicly denied, can now be evaluated on their merits, separate from political pressures. The swift appointment of a successor (career intelligence officer John Stein) permits the undelayed resumption of authorized secret activities that had been under Hugel jurisdi ction.

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