Woolsey: Arms Expert Hailed for His Competence : Nominee: Oklahoman has worked as NSC staff member and negotiator in nuclear disarmament talks. He has a knack for the art of compromise.


R. James Woolsey, the man President Clinton has chosen to be director of central intelligence, does not exactly fit the image of a spymaster in a John LeCarre novel: Indeed, he has served in virtually every kind of national security job except that of spy.

In his 22-year career here, Woolsey has been a staff member on the National Security Council, counsel to the Senate Armed Services Committee, undersecretary of the Navy, negotiator in talks on nuclear and conventional disarmament and a member of some half-dozen commissions.

The 51-year-old Oklahoman has emerged as one of the most knowledgeable experts in the country about what the CIA should be doing in the post-Cold War era and about how to help the intelligence effort survive in the face of budget cuts and criticism on Capitol Hill.

Last summer, Woolsey was tapped by current CIA chief Robert M. Gates to explore ways to consolidate America's costly spy-satellite program without impairing U.S. intelligence gathering--an issue that cuts to the heart of the dilemma the agency will face in the 1990s.

But while Woolsey enjoys high standing among foreign policy experts here, it still is not certain whether he will be able to accomplish the kind of bold, sweeping changes that some critics say may be needed to revamp the U.S. intelligence effort for the 1990s and beyond.

"He's a superbly competent man but he's not going to break any china," says a former colleague who is familiar with Woolsey's views.

By contrast, Woolsey's apparent rival for the job, Rep. Dave McCurdy (D-Okla.), earlier this year co-authored a sweeping plan to reorganize the U.S. intelligence effort for the post-Cold War world. Congress brushed the plan aside, but McCurdy still briefly caught Clinton's eye.

A conservative Democrat and unabashed hawk during the Cold War years, Woolsey has gained the respect of Republicans and Democrats alike, earning a reputation for fairness and integrity that is likely to go a long way toward mollifying some of the agency's critics.

"Historically, you've had directors who either had come from the covert side (of the CIA) or were installed from the outside as managers," says Walter B. Slocombe, a longtime friend who served with Woolsey at the Pentagon. "Jim has the potential for combining those two."

Retired Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, who was CIA director during the Ronald Reagan Administration, agrees. Inman had recommended that Clinton keep Gates for a few months, to provide continuity. "After Bob Gates, my preferred candidate was Jim Woolsey," he said.

A wry, self-deprecating man with a ready sense of humor and a talent for blending widely disparate views into thoughtful analyses, Woolsey has been the man behind--and sometimes in front of--some of the major political compromises on national security issues in recent years.

In the early 1980s, Woolsey served on the Strategic Forces Commission, a bipartisan panel that brokered a landmark deal with Congress in which the White House won authority to keep the MX missile program in exchange for a promise to build a smaller missile that lawmakers wanted.

In 1987, he quietly drafted compromise language for the conclusions of the bipartisan commission headed by former Texas Sen. John Tower that conducted the first full-scale inquiry of the Iran-Contra scandal. The panel parceled blame throughout the national security apparatus.

And in 1989, Woolsey began a two-year stint as U.S. representative to the Negotiation on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe--known as CFE in bureaucratic jargon--eventually breaking a deadlock to come through with a landmark agreement on reducing forces on the Continent.

Although Woolsey never has served in the CIA, over the years he has gotten to know virtually the entire Who's Who of the intelligence community. He has been a longtime friend--and frequent confidant--of Brent Scowcroft, President Bush's national security adviser.

He also has served on a spate of other high-level panels--including the President's Commission on Defense Management, which laid the groundwork for reorganizing the Pentagon in 1985-86 and a panel on Federal Ethics Law Reform in 1989.

Throughout all those assignments, Woolsey has been an avid consumer of U.S. intelligence-gathering--both while serving in the Pentagon and during his stints as an arms negotiator.

As undersecretary of the Navy during the Jimmy Carter Administration, he was charged with overseeing the Navy's intelligence operations. "Jim was deeply involved in the nuts and bolts of intelligence-gathering there," one close colleague says.

Woolsey is expected to modernize the intelligence menu that the CIA produces and the way it packages what it collects. He also is apt to improve the distribution system so that intelligence can be provided more quickly to agencies and military units that need it.

He also is expected to fare well in skirmishing with Congress over how far the nation's intelligence-gathering budget can be cut without damaging the national security. Lawmakers already are looking hungrily at the intelligence budget as a way to help cut defense spending.

Like Clinton himself, Woolsey is a former Rhodes scholar with a voracious appetite for information and a talent for digesting a wide array of facts and putting them into a package that can pass as a consensus proposal.

Woolsey acknowledged in his first remarks as director-designate Tuesday that, although the Soviet threat no longer is there, such issues as nuclear proliferation, terrorism, drugs, ecological damage and economic competition "all give American intelligence a full agenda."

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