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If the Kennedy Administration is really attempting to revamp the governmental bureaucracy by putting the right professional in the right position, last week's confirmation of John A. McCone as head of the C.I.A. simply indicates failure.
The Central Intelligence Agency has been widely publicized since it served as a scapegoat for the Cuban Invasion. Last April, everybody in Washington was excusing himself on the grounds of blind gullibility, and vowing to clean up the mess which Allen Dulles had made over the years. Now, still calling for an Intelligence Agency that will be less self-willed and less inclined toward asserting foreign policy on behalf of the nation, the guiltless have approved a powerful, opinionated and unqualified man to lead it.
Only twelve Senators voted against McCone on the floor, but they seemed to have twelve compelling reasons. Margaret Chase Smith had asked the nominee before the Senate Armed Services Committee, "Will you tell the committee what training or experience you had in the field of intelligence prior to your appointment to that position?" McCone answered "none," adding, however, that he had discussed his lack of qualifications with his wife, because it troubled him. He did not consult the President on this matter. Senator Bartlett confronted McCone with a conflict of interest question; the nominee remained unperturbed.
The severity of these questions should not give the impression that McCone's appointment was in any danger; indeed, Senator Symington, less like a blocker than a best man, led him through the Committee hearing as he would down a wedding aisle. Strom Thurmond (D-S.C.) also came to the defense of the blushing newly-wed when Senators like Fulbright, Clark, McCarthy and Case (R-S.D.) impugned his honor.
Case, for example, had quoted a 1946 House inquiry into World War II profiteering, which showed that McCone had been part of a group which garnered 44 million dollars on a $100,000 investment. Symington, to the rescue, laughed: "it is still legal in America, if not to make a profit, at least to try to make a profit, is it not?" And McCone, the star witness, blushed: "That is my understanding."
The transcript of the Armed Services Committee hearings are almost as funny as the C.I.A. record is sad. McCone nonchalantly credited the American Ambassador to Guatemala for overthrowing the Arbenz government in 1954, and opined that academic freedom has its limits when professors start signing disarmament petitions in support of Adlai Stevenson.
Now that McCone has made his comedy debut, he seems anxious to play a great tragic role on the cold war stage. Already he has opposed the President's suggestion for number two man in the Intelligence Unit, and the alacrity with which his demands for C.I.A. autonomy have been accepted, indicates that the criticism of last April was aimed at diverting attention from the basic causes of the Cuban policy debacle.
Unfortunately, Congress may pass no law nullifying in advance those of Kennedy's appointments which are ill-considered. But if the confirmation process itself is allowed to become mere formality, then no objections, valid or invalid, from left or right, important or trivial, can be raised against anyone, at any point.
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