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CIA to Increase Scrutiny of Allies’ Trade Moves : Espionage: New Director Gates says the agency hopes to safeguard U.S. commercial interests.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The CIA will intensify scrutiny of the trade and economic policies of America’s major allies to assure that they do not violate international agreements or harm U.S. commercial interests, CIA Director Robert M. Gates said Thursday.

While rejecting outright spying on foreign corporations, Gates said that foreign governments--even friendly governments--colluding with their industries to the detriment of American interests are “fair game” for U.S. espionage efforts.

“The basic message to others around the world is: If you intend to cheat the United States, we’re going to be looking,” Gates said.

He said the agency has uncovered cases in which foreign governments have made foreign policy concessions to other governments, in exchange for purchases of products of private corporations. But he declined to name any countries guilty of such “collusion.”

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In a 90-minute interview with editors and reporters of The Times’ Washington bureau, his first since moving into the post six weeks ago after a stormy confirmation process, the director explored various topics, from nuclear proliferation to the future of the new Russian-led commonwealth to changes within the CIA because of the end of the Cold War.

He said the dialogue is part of a new “openness” he intended to bring to the agency.

Gates said the CIA has not yet seen evidence that Soviet nuclear technology and know-how are being leaked to other nations, although the possibility of that remains a concern. Nor has U.S. intelligence detected efforts by rogue nations to recruit Soviet weapons scientists, he said.

But he said that thousands of Soviet experts on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons are facing unemployment and food shortages and may feel compelled to market their expertise to Third World nations seeking unconventional weapons capabilities.

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The spy chief said that the end of the Cold War means that the number and size of U.S. covert operations overseas will diminish. But secret foreign operations remain “an instrument of foreign policy that is available to the government. I think there will continue to be some selective use of it but I think it will be very selective.”

He said the U.S. government is unlikely any time soon to mount large-scale paramilitary operations like those in Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Angola in the 1980s.

Gates expressed optimism about the progress, so far, toward devising a new form of government in the dissolving Soviet Union, praising Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin’s courage and political skill.

But he said the outlook for democratization and economic reform in the new commonwealth “depends on what happens during the winter.” While not predicting widespread famine, Gates said a poor Soviet harvest and a broken food and fuel distribution system will produce “severe local shortages.”

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His assessment of the situation in Russia and the other former Soviet republics was noticeably more upbeat than in recent speeches and congressional testimony. As recently as last week he had predicted that the crumbling Soviet Union would experience “the most significant civil disorder since the Bolsheviks consolidated power” in 1917.

He said he was encouraged by the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States and most of the public statements made by the leaders of the newly independent republics.

“It’s clear that all of these republics are very interested in both sovereignty and independence but the commonwealth evinces a willingness on their part to collaborate on those issues . . . where they . . . have a concern or an interest in common,” Gates said. “No one should underestimate the challenges and the problems that these guys are going to face getting through the winter and so on. But I think it’s a really encouraging step forward.”

Gates expressed some optimism about the future of the new commonwealth, saying: “This is the last great multinational colonial empire that has collapsed. It has collapsed virtually overnight. Seeing their way through to the development of real democracy and a market economy is going to be a long path for them and it’s going to be a tough path. . . . There’s going to be instability, there’s going to be some violence.

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“But I think the key for the West is to pay attention to the overall direction in which they’re headed. I think in light of their past in which there is very little experience with either democracy or market economics, that what they already have achieved is marvelous.”

While Gates, a longtime hard-liner on the Soviet Union, was relatively sanguine on developments in the fallen empire, he gave a more sober assessment of emerging problems elsewhere.

He said North Korea and Iran continue to work toward building atomic bombs, that several other Third World nations are aggressively pursuing unconventional weapons and missile technology and that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein remains firmly in power in Baghdad.

Concerning Iraq, Gates said that his agency has indirect evidence of growing discontent among the population and “some other signs of possible difficulty within the family, within the closed circle.”

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Some in the government and Congress have urged the Administration to move aggressively to exploit that disaffection and encourage a coup attempt. Gates said he believes a coup could succeed without outside help, but he declined to elaborate.


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