Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, lashed out Wednesday at the No. 2 Republican in the House - who attacked him first by insinuating Owens is out to dismantle U.S. intelligence gathering.

House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., began the fray when was quoted in the Washington Post as saying House Speaker Tom Foley is trying to undermine U.S. intelligence gathering by appointing Owens and four other outspoken liberals to the House Intelligence Committee.Gingrich said, "It's further proof of the hard-left domination of the Democratic caucus. They put people on Armed Services who don't believe in the military. They put people on Foreign Affairs who don't believe in an effective policy and who believe in unilateral disarmament.

"So it makes perfect sense they would put people in the intelligence committee who don't believe in intelligence gathering," Gingrich said.

Owens told reporters, "I believe in intelligence gathering. You have to have it, absolutely. I'm not sure going into the committee that you have to fight communists in undercover war efforts anymore."

He added, "There's some people like Newt Gingrich who have severe problems with the fact that there aren't any communists to worry about, and they still fight these fights.

"So what Newt Gingrich is most worried about is that we may, in essence, stop some of the covert activity still struggling against communists in some places of the world. It's totally irrelevant and fruitless and non-profitable."

Republicans are worried that Foley appointed Owens and the four other liberals to counterbalance the rise of more conservative Rep. Dave McCurdy, D-Okla., as the committee's new chairman.

Owens is the most moderate of the Democrats newly named to the committee. The others are Reps. Ronald V. Dellums of California, David E. Bonior of Michigan, Martin Olav Sabo of Minnesota and Norman D. Dicks of Washington.

Owens has said Foley appointed him to the Intelligence Committee mainly as a consolation prize for not being able to get him on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Former speaker Jim Wright twice promised to appoint Owens to that committee, and Foley also promised that during last year's campaign - but was unable to deliver because too many western Democrats are already on it.

Owens also met with the Intelligence Committee for the first time Wednesday in a briefing on intelligence related to the Persian Gulf war.

Owens did not discuss classified information from that briefing but said intelligence officials do not offer the optimism that military leaders have expressed about the progress and success of the war.