• U.S.

Backbone and Stature

4 minute read
Amy Wilentz

While serving in the Congo in 1960, at the beginning of his foreign service career, Frank Carlucci was a passenger in a car that struck and killed a bicyclist. The driver took off, leaving Carlucci facing an angry crowd. There was some pushing and shoving, and before he could be rescued, Carlucci ended up with a knife in his back. Thus when he was appointed last week as President Reagan’s new National Security Adviser, Carlucci became the first man to have been stabbed in the back even before he assumed that highly exposed post.

For years Carlucci, a Princeton graduate from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., operated as the ultimate No. 2 man, a fellow who seemed destined to be a deputy: second secretary in the Congo (now Zaïre); assistant director at the Office of Economic Opportunity; deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget; Under Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare; deputy director of the CIA; Deputy Secretary of the Defense Department. In doing so, he developed admiring mentors, among them Caspar Weinberger, his boss at HEW and the Defense Department, and George Shultz, his boss at OMB. Both men had Carlucci, 56, on their recommended list last week as a replacement for the departing John Poindexter.

Carlucci, who is known for his aggressiveness and tenacity, has the stature to be an independent force in the White House, one who will not allow himself to be dominated by Chief of Staff Donald Regan. As Ambassador to Portugal when pro-Communist military men took over in 1975, he stood up to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who felt that the U.S. should break with the Lisbon regime. Carlucci urged support for Portugal’s moderate left as the best way to ensure the downfall of the Communist hard-liners. He prevailed, and was proved correct.

Carlucci has seen firsthand the risks involved in covert actions. While he was at the CIA during the Carter Administration, the agency ran a secret operation to infiltrate and destabilize Marxist-ruled South Yemen. It ended in the execution of twelve agency operatives.

When Weinberger picked Carlucci to be his deputy in 1981, many conservatives criticized the choice of a nonideological bureaucrat who had served with Jimmy Carter. At the Pentagon he was extremely sensitive to leaks, and after one such incident he had some 25 high-level officials, including himself, submit to lie-detector tests. “I believe in appropriate secrets,” Carlucci says, “and I believe in keeping them.” But unlike CIA Director William Casey, Carlucci is comfortable with the concept of congressional oversight of intelligence activities.

One of Carlucci’s controversial actions at the Pentagon involved Richard Secord, who was then a deputy assistant secretary for the Middle East and has since become a central figure in the network of private arms dealers supplying Iran and the contras. In early 1982 Secord was placed on leave while a federal grand jury investigated his alleged ties to Edwin Wilson, a renegade CIA operative turned arms merchant. But with Carlucci’s approval, Secord was soon reinstated. Secord, who was never indicted, was many rungs down in the hierarchy from Carlucci, and one of Carlucci’s subordinates last week took responsibility for making the decision to reinstate Secord.

Carlucci, who until recently served as chairman of Sears World Trade Inc., stresses that in his new job he will report directly to the President. But he pointedly noted that he would “certainly envisage keeping the President’s chief of staff informed.” He immediately sent in a ten-member team to sniff out structural and personnel problems at the NSC. “I want to rebuild the NSC policy-formulation machinery,” he said in an interview. Covert operations like the one in Iran, he notes, “are at times desirable,” but “all the procedures need to be followed.” Unlike his predecessors, however, he does not feel that covert actions should be run from the White House. “There is an appropriate place in the Government designated to run such operations,” he says, referring to the CIA. “The NSC is a staff operation.”

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