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Integrity at the CIA

The Senate Intelligence Committee report on William Casey was not, to put it delicately, a ringing endorsement of the Central Intelligence Agency director. The report noted that ''Mr. Casey was at minimum inattentive to detail'' regarding his past finances and relations with Congress. Mr. Casey's federal disclosure statement filed last January, for example, ''omitted at least nine investments valued at more than a quarter of a million dollars, personal debts and contingent liabilities of nearly $500,000, a number of corporations or foundations on whose board Mr. Casey served, four civil lawsuits in which he was involved . . ., and more than 70 clients he had represented in private practice in the last five years.''

Enough said. While the report concluded that Mr. Casey is ''not unfit'' to head up the CIA, the overall pattern of evasions and conduct was questionable enough to prompt Sen. Walter Huddleston, the second-ranking Democrat on the intelligence panel, to urge that Mr. Casey either resign or be fired.

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What is particularly unfortunate is that the report does not enhance public confidence in the CIA at a time when the agency is still making a comeback following a number of reforms in the past several years. The folks at Langley, Va., where the CIA is located, need only look down the Potomac River to Washington and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to see how an embattled agency can take steps to reinstate itself in the good graces of the nation. Despite the current flap about telephone contact made by FBI Director William Webster to national security adviser Richard Allen during the bureau's inquiry into the Allen affair, the fact remains that the FBI under Mr. Webster has reformed its operating procedures, recruited new personnel, and cast off much of the negative image of the agency that had arisen in the 1970s.

The CIA, as the nation's principal overseas intelligence-gathering agency, must have the finest leadership possible. That means persons possessing unqualified integrity. For an agency that finds compromise of security intolerable, there ought to be no internal compromise whatsoever regarding those funda-mentals that taken together constitute the highest sense of stewardship.

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