Why Spy Nominee Gets Cold Shoulder

While GOP lawmakers question Anthony Lake's approval of secret Iranian arms deals, former CIA chiefs see politics behind delays in hearings

Working out of a small office at the Central Intelligence Agency, the man tapped as the new head of America's espionage apparatus has spent the past weeks learning his way around the CIA complex and soliciting ideas on reforms.

But whether William Anthony Kirsopp Lake, President Clinton's former national security adviser, will ever move into the CIA director's plush, 7th-floor suite and take possession of the key to its private elevator is unclear.

Mr. Lake's nomination remains in limbo. Sen. Richard Shelby (R) of Alabama, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, has twice postponed Lake's confirmation hearings. They are now due to begin March 11, more than three months after the taciturn, publicity-shy academic was nominated to succeed John Deutch.

Senator Shelby says he needs more time to look into unanswered questions, including those about contact between National Security Council (NSC) staff and Asian Americans involved in campaign donations to the Democratic Party. He is also disturbed by Lake's stock dealings and his role in the United States' tacit approval in 1994 of Iranian arms shipments to the Bosnian Muslims.

The White House insists that it has addressed Shelby's concerns and points out that Lake has been absolved of any wrongdoing on the Iranian arms issue.

Lake agreed on Feb. 7 to pay a $5,000 penalty for failing to immediately sell stocks he was told to get rid of due to concerns about ethics, although the Justice Department found he had not deliberately ignored the directive.

"The idea of Anthony Lake jiggling around stocks to make money is ridiculous," says someone who worked closely with Lake.

Full-court press

As part of a full-court press by the White House to salvage Lake's nomination, the NSC released copies of documents Friday that it turned over to Shelby. Included were memos showing that the NSC, under Lake, had expressed concern about White House meetings with Democratic contributors who had ties to Chinese officials.

"He is superbly qualified," an exasperated President Clinton said of Lake last week.

Some administration officials suggest the Republicans are playing politics with Lake's nomination, seeing it as an opportunity to excoriate the administration's foreign policies. Some outside observers, including critics of Clinton's foreign policies, agree.

"It does appear that Lake has been designated the partisan punching bag," says Robert Gates, CIA director under former President Bush. "I think the hearings for head of the CIA are a singularly inappropriate place to do that. This is a job that ... should be outside of politics."

Mr. Gates's predecessor, William Webster, sees a different motive. He believes Shelby, who has just assumed the chairmanship of the Senate committee, is sending a message that, in return for confirmation, he will hold Lake accountable to keeping the panel closely informed of intelligence community activities.

"I think what is happening is that the Congress is probably positioning itself to make sure that he [Lake] is prepared to pledge to the committee his full cooperation in the future," says Mr. Webster. "This is the time when they can remind you that they have a responsibility and you have a responsibility."

Keeping Congress informed

It is on the question of keeping lawmakers apprised of intelligence community developments, including covert operations, that Lake's critics and supporters agree the Senate committee should be most concerned.

"There is no doubt that Mr. Lake is a man of considerable ability," Sen. Arlen Specter (R) of Pennsylvania, the former committee chairman, wrote to colleagues last week. "But the critical question remains as to whether Mr. Lake can be counted upon to keep the Congress currently and fully informed."

Observers note that despite his clearance of wrongdoing by the Justice Department, Lake has admitted erring in failing to apprise Congress of the decision to give a green light to the secret Iran arms supplies to the Muslim-led Bosnian army. The shipments, sent via Croatia, violated a UN embargo that the administration had officially supported.

Republicans charge that the decision not to object to the Iranian shipments allowed Tehran's hard-line Islamic regime to gain influence in Sarajevo. They also say the presence of Iranian fighters in Bosnia posed a threat to US peacekeeping troops when they deployed in January 1996.

Gates, among others, says Lake owes Shelby's panel a full explanation of the decision and an apology for failing to notifying Congress. He must also give an accounting of why he failed to sell energy stocks for more than a year after he was asked by White House lawyers to divest them. Furthermore, says Gates, Lake must clearly describe his plans for post-cold-war reforms in the CIA and other intelligence agencies and his views on the use of covert action to further American national security goals.

"There is an opportunity for a very rich and useful hearing here," asserts Gates, who says it should go forward. He warns that the longer it is delayed, "the more opportunity there is for the opposition to be heard. You can get a situation where you can get such a bow wave of opposition that it is impossible for the nominee to overcome it."

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