Under Turner, Spy Business Is Not What It Was
By NICHOLAS M. HORRACK
Washington Post, October 30, 1977, Section 4, page 4
WASHINGTONIn the next two weeks, a special committee of the United States intelligence officials will put the final touches on a 60-page executive order for President Carter's signature. The document, its framers claim, will streamline American intelligence gathering, analysis and counterespionage, end bureaucratic bickering between the intelligence branches, protect the civil rights of citizens, save moneyas one senior official wearily put it"prepare a balanced meal for a family of four."
The remark was understandable. Mr. Carter entered office at a bad time for the intelligence agencies, buffeted by unremitting criticism and disclosures of past abuses, demoralized by internal disorder and revelations of squabbling and confused about their mission. Though ultimately the executive order outlining the reorganization the President promised will be a bridge until Congress adopts formal legal charters setting out the mission and limitations of each agency, the bridge could be a long one. In the interval, President Carter's executive order will be the agencies' law.
What is known about the order and about the intelligence politicking that led up to it confirms that though Adm. Stansfield Turner, director of Central Intelligence, has not been named intelligence czar, a great deal of powerthough perhaps not enough to correct the inefficiencies of the pasthas been concentrated in his hands. But inefficiencies were not the only issue, and top intelligence hands also say that, for a variety of reasons, there are enough checks and balances to govern the power concentration.
One is the fact that Congress is in fact moving, albeit slowly, on a formal charter. Senator Warren D. Huddleston, Democrat of Kentucky who chairs a subcommittee of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that is preparing the legislative proposals, said his group was introducing the necessary bills this year.
Even if the intelligence legislation was introduced before Congress recesses for its Christmas break, however, there is no telling how much time would elapse before final passage. Meanwhile, there are other de facto forces that may act to control abuse. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is still under investigation in connection with burglaries committed in domestic intelligence cases, and a former agent has been indicted. Attorney General Griffen B. Bell has said he will announce shortly whether he will ask a grand jury for an indictment of former Central Intelligence Director Richard Helms on charges of perjury. The example of such prosecutions, many believe, act as a deterrent in the absence of new law.
Then there is the executive order. Its final language is still secret, but here are some major points.
The order, last discussed at a meeting last Friday, was not arrived at without trauma. Admiral Turner, a ruddy, veteran Naval officer who was in the same Annapolis graduating class as Mr. Carter, became director of Central Intelligence when the creation of an all powerful chief of intelligence who would have broad powers to direct the activities of the various agencies was being considered.
The admiral moved briskly to establish his position, catering to Cabinet members, listening carefully to the Senate committee, and meeting regularly and privately with the President. There is no doubt he stepped on some bureaucratic toes. In late June, fighting between the Admiral, as he likes to be called, and Harold Brown, the Secretary of Defense, became public knowledge.
In August, Mr. Carter backed his man. He gave Admiral Turner the power to decide on the final budget for the intelligence agencies. Prior to that the decision was made by a committee. The admiral was not unmindful of his gain. "He who has the budget, has the golden rule," he is known to say.
Substantively, he isn't wrong. In Washington, veto over budget is substantial control. In Admiral Turner's case, it means that he can halt a program a component agency is pressing for, or nurture a program he himself is pressing for even if the money goes to the Department of Defense.
But there is an equally potent authority, that the Admiral has not gained. It is the right to hire and fire officials in such powerful agencies as the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Security Agency and the agencies that come under the Secretary of Defense. The man who can hire and fire forms a network of officials dependent upon and beholden to him in agencies where he nominally has no direct power. When the executive order is made public, apparently it will be impossible to detect whether Admiral Turner or Secretary Brown won.
All in all, the Admiral has come out with more power than his predecessor, William E. Colby. But all in all, he has the window dressing of a major Cabinet post without all the substance.
Nicholas M. Horrock is a reporter in the Washington bureau of the New York Times.