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Profiles of Clinton's first-round picks // ANTHONY LAKE

It is fitting that President Clinton's choice to head the CIA is Anthony Lake: For four years, he has been the invisible man of the administration's foreign policy team.

William Anthony Kirsopp Lake keeps such a low profile that he was identified as "unidentified" in a New York Times photograph taken well into his tenure as Clinton's national security adviser.

"One more potted plant imitation," he has said of himself.

"Famously discreet," says Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "That makes him, of course, a good temperament for the CIA."

Don't mistake Lake's self-effacing New England manner for a sign he lacks influence or passion.

"He's an incredibly intense person," says longtime friend Dan Okrent, managing editor of Life magazine. "In what he sets out to do, he figures out the appropriate way to do it, and he can be very single-minded about it.

Unfailingly competitive, whether in advancing U.S. interests or playing pool with his driver, Lake's watchwords are "persistence and pragmatism."

"These are not evidence of indecision: They are the hallmarks of determination," he said in a speech defending an administration whose foreign policy has been criticized for vacillation and weakness.

Almost every morning for four years, Lake, 57, has marched into the Oval Office to take the world view to Clinton.

"It's been a great comfort to me . . . to have Tony Lake just down the hall and to bring the power of his mind, the toughness of his character, the strength of his integrity to bear on the most difficult challenges we face," Clinton said Thursday in announcing that Lake was his choice to head the Central Intelligence Agency.

Lake, taking a rare turn in the Oval Office spotlight, promised he would use the agency to provide Clinton "the unvarnished facts on which he can base wise decisions in a time of change and promise."

It was a role he first sought to play in the turbulent Vietnam years. As a young Foreign Service officer "sick of a war that defied termination," Lake went to work for Henry Kissinger in the Nixon White House in 1969.

Hoping to help steer the nation out of the war, Lake instead found Kissinger bent on invading Cambodia.

"It was surprisingly easy to turn in a letter of resignation on the morning of the invasion," Lake wrote later of his departure in 1970. Characteristically, he left quietly, "afraid of appearing publicity-conscious or too emotional."

Lake later took a turn in President Carter's State Department under Cyrus Vance before settling comfortably into the role of international relations professor at Mount Holyoke College and gentleman farmer to 28 head of cattle on his Massachusetts farm.

Author of five books on foreign policy, Lake was ready to write one about how presidential candidates often make damaging foreign-policy statements when Bill Clinton persuaded him in 1992 to advise the campaign and then lead the National Security Council.

Ever the polite Yankee farmer, Lake paid tribute to CIA chief John Deutch and demonstrated his wry humor in sizing up the job ahead.

"His shoes are large _ both figuratively and literally," Lake said of Deutch to a round of Oval Office laughter. "And I am very much welcoming the challenge of following in his footsteps. This is a size EEE job."