'We don't want to spy on Americans'

In a Monitor interview, CIA Director William Casey comments on three controversial issues:

* President Reagan's loosening of controls over intelligence activities through a new executive order.

* Freedom of Information Act requests that are submitted to the intelligence agencies.

* The possible ''politicization'' of American inteligence reports - the twisting of intelligence to fit an adminstration's preconceived ideas.

Has the President's executive order (issued last year, broadening the authority of intelligence agencies to collect information from Americans at home and abroad) made your work easier?

The criticism of the executive order was much overblown. It's not true that we wanted the order so that we could spy on Americans. We wanted it to simplify the work of our operations officers. Before, they had 130 pages of operational guidance and restrictions to follow and interpret. It's down to 25 percent of what it was. We've had to bend over backwards, to check and double-check. Most important, under the old rules, the perception was that surveillance could not be conducted against an American citizen living abroad unless you could prove he was a Soviet agent. Now, if it is believed that he may be a Soviet agent, it is clear that you can take investigative steps to find out.


Why do you want to exempt the CIA from the Freedom of Information Act?

We think there should be some relief for the intelligence agencies, because the people abroad whom we work with - the liaison services - think our files are open to public scrutiny. Sometimes important stuff that shouldn't get out, gets out.

There's a misperception that we're trying to repeal the Freedom of Information Act. We're simply saying that the intelligence agencies should not have to search sensitive operational files for possible release to the public. Only two other countries have a freedom of information act: Australia and New Zealand. In both countries, the intelligence agencies are exempt.


What about reports that you ''politicized'' the CIA analysis of terrorism in order to emphasize the Soviet factor?

Any such (reports) came from incomplete understanding as to how that analysis developed from a narrow and not very useful one to a broad, comprehensive, and balanced estimate. When I came in, there was an estimate that addressed the question of whether the Soviets control international terror. The answer was that they do not control it. But the question was too narrowly based. The answer was done like a lawyer's brief that Soviet control of terroristic activities could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. I wanted the question to be addressed more broadly (to describe the Soviet supply of weapons to terrorists and Soviet activity in support of terrorist training).

The DIA (the Defense Intelligence Agency) had an alternative view which addressed the question more broadly. I had the DIA do a draft estimate that created a little shock. I got back an estimate from the DIA that I thought went too far in the other direction. I got a senior review panel, headed by Lincoln Gordon (former ambassador to Brazil under President Kennedy), to take a look at it, and they developed the final estimate into a balanced document.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.