Richard Helms was born in St Davids, Philadelphia, on 30th March, 1913. After graduating from Williams College, Massachusetts, he joined the United Press news agency and in 1936 was sent to Nazi Germany to cover the Berlin Olympic Games. On his return to the United States he joined the advertising department of the Indianapolis Times. Two years later he became national advertising manager.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor Helms joined the United States Navy. In August, 1943, he was transferred to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) that had made established by William Donovan. The OSS had responsibility for collecting and analyzing information about countries at war with the United States. It also helped to organize guerrilla fighting, sabotage and espionage.
After the surrender of Germany in 1945, Helms helped interview suspected Nazi war criminals. Helms remained in the OSS and in 1946 was put in charge of intelligence and counter-intelligence activities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The following year Helms joined the recently formed Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). His first task was to mount a mount a massive convert campaign against the Communist Party during the Italian General Election. This was highly successful and this encouraged President Harry S. Truman to establish the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), an organization instructed to conduct covert anti-Communist operations around the world. In August, 1952, OPC and the Office of Special Operations (the espionage division) were merged to form the Directorate of Plans (DPP).
Frank Wisner was appointed head of the DPP and he appointed Helms as his chief of operations. In December, 1956, Wisner suffered a mental breakdown and was diagnosed as suffering from manic depression. During his absence Wisner's job was covered by Helms. The CIA sent Wisner to the Sheppard-Pratt Institute, a psychiatric hospital near Baltimore. He was prescribed psychoanalysis and shock therapy (electroconvulsive treatment). It was not successful and still suffering from depression, he was released from hospital in 1958.
Wisner was too ill to return to his post as head of the DDP. Allen W. Dulles therefore sent him to London to be CIA chief of station in England. Dulles decided that Richard Bissell rather than Helms should become the new head of the DPP. Helms was named as his deputy. Together they became responsible for what became known as the CIA's Black Operations. This involved a policy that was later to become known as Executive Action (a plan to remove unfriendly foreign leaders from power). This including a coup d'état that overthrew the Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 after he introduced land reforms and nationalized the United Fruit Company.
Other political leaders deposed by Executive Action included Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, the Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo, General Abd al-Karim Kassem of Iraq and Ngo Dinh Diem, the leader of South Vietnam. However, his main target was Fidel Castro who had established a socialist government in Cuba.
In March I960, President Dwight Eisenhower of the United States approved a CIA plan to overthrow Castro. The plan involved a budget of $13 million to train "a paramilitary force outside Cuba for guerrilla action." The strategy was organised by Bissell and Helms. An estimated 400 CIA officers were employed full-time to carry out what became known as Operation Mongoose.
Sidney Gottlieb of the CIA Technical Services Division was asked to come up with proposals that would undermine Castro's popularity with the Cuban people. Plans included a scheme to spray a television studio in which he was about to appear with an hallucinogenic drug and contaminating his shoes with thallium which they believed would cause the hair in his beard to fall out.
These schemes were rejected and instead Bissell and Helms decided to arrange the assassination of Fidel Castro. In September 1960, Bissell and Allen W. Dulles, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), initiated talks with two leading figures of the Mafia, Johnny Roselli and Sam Giancana. Later, other crime bosses such as Carlos Marcello, Santos Trafficante and Meyer Lansky became involved in this plot against Castro.
Robert Maheu, a veteran of CIA counter-espionage activities, was instructed to offer the Mafia $150,000 to kill Fidel Castro. The advantage of employing the Mafia for this work is that it provided CIA with a credible cover story. The Mafia were known to be angry with Castro for closing down their profitable brothels and casinos in Cuba. If the assassins were killed or captured the media would accept that the Mafia were working on their own.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation had to be brought into this plan as part of the deal involved protection against investigations against the Mafia in the United States. Castro was later to complain that there were twenty ClA-sponsered attempts on his life. Eventually Johnny Roselli and his friends became convinced that the Cuban revolution could not be reversed by simply removing its leader. However, they continued to play along with this CIA plot in order to prevent them being prosecuted for criminal offences committed in the United States.
When John F. Kennedy replaced Dwight Eisenhower as president of the United States he was told about the CIA plan to invade Cuba. Kennedy had doubts about the venture but he was afraid he would be seen as soft on communism if he refused permission for it to go ahead. Kennedy's advisers convinced him that Fidel Castro was an unpopular leader and that once the invasion started the Cuban people would support the ClA-trained forces.
On April 14, 1961, B-26 planes began bombing Cuba's airfields. After the raids Cuba was left with only eight planes and seven pilots. Two days later five merchant ships carrying 1,400 Cuban exiles arrived at the Bay of Pigs. The attack was a total failure. Two of the ships were sunk, including the ship that was carrying most of the supplies. Two of the planes that were attempting to give air-cover were also shot down. Within seventy-two hours all the invading troops had been killed, wounded or had surrendered.
After the CIA's internal inquiry into this fiasco, Allen W. Dulles was sacked by President John F. Kennedy and Richard Bissell was forced to resign. Helms now took over the Directorate for Plans. His deputy was Thomas H. Karamessines. Helms now introduced a campaign that involved covert attacks on the Cuban economy.
In 1962 Helms became increasingly involved in the Vietnam War. By this time President John F. Kennedy was convinced that Ngo Dinh Diem would never be able to unite the South Vietnamese against communism. Several attempts had already been made to overthrow Diem but Kennedy had always instructed the CIA and the US military forces in Vietnam to protect him. Eventually, in order to obtain a more popular leader of South Vietnam, Kennedy agreed that the role of the CIA should change. Lucien Conein, a CIA operative, provided a group of South Vietnamese generals with $40,000 to carry out the coup with the promise that US forces would make no attempt to protect Diem. At the beginning of November, 1963, President Diem was overthrown by a military coup. The generals had promised Diem that he would be allowed to leave the country they changed their mind and killed him.
When John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Helms was given the responsibility of investigating Lee Harvey Oswald and the CIA. Helms initially appointed John M. Whitten to undertake the agency's in-house investigation. After talking to Winston Scott, the CIA station chief in Mexico City, Whitten discovered that Oswald had been photographed at the Cuban consulate in early October, 1963. Nor had Scott told Whitten, his boss, that Oswald had also visited the Soviet Embassy in Mexico. In fact, Whitten had not been informed of the existence of Oswald, even though there was a 201 pre-assassination file on him that had been maintained by the Counterintelligence/Special Investigative Group.
John M. Whitten and his staff of 30 officers, were sent a large amount of information from the FBI. According to Gerald D. McKnight "the FBI deluged his branch with thousands of reports containing bits and fragments of witness testimony that required laborious and time-consuming name checks." Whitten later described most of this FBI material as "weirdo stuff". As a result of this initial investigation, Whitten told Richard Helms that he believed that Oswald had acted alone in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
On 6th December, Nicholas Katzenbach invited John M. Whitten and Birch O'Neal, Angleton's trusted deputy and senior Special Investigative Group (SIG) officer to read Commission Document 1 (CD1), the report that the FBI had written on Lee Harvey Oswald. Whitten now realized that the FBI had been withholding important information on Oswald from him. He also discovered that Richard Helms had not been providing him all of the agency's available files on Oswald. This included Oswald's political activities in the months preceding the assassination.
Whitten had a meeting where he argued that Oswald's pro-Castro political activities needed closer examination, especially his attempt to shoot the right-wing General Edwin Walker, his relationship with anti-Castro exiles in New Orleans, and his public support for the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee. Whitten added that has he had been denied this information, his initial conclusions on the assassination were "completely irrelevant."
Helms responded by taking Whitten off the case. James Jesus Angleton, chief of the CIA's Counterintelligence Branch, was now put in charge of the investigation. According to Gerald McKnight (Breach of Trust) Angleton "wrested the CIA's in-house investigation away from John Whitten because he either was convinced or pretended to believe that the purpose of Oswald's trip to Mexico City had been to meet with his KGB handlers to finalize plans to assassinate Kennedy."
President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Admiral William Raborn, head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Helms became Raborn's deputy but became increasingly influential over decisions being made in Vietnam. This included the covert action in neighbouring Laos and the formation of South Vietnamese counter-terror teams.
The following year Johnson promoted Helms to become head of the CIA. He was the first director of the organization to have worked his way up from the ranks. His standing with Johnson improved when he successfully predicted a quick victory for Israel during the Six Day War in June, 1967. However, Helms information about the size of enemy forces in Vietnam was less accurate. Johnson was told in November, 1967, that the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces had fallen to 248,000. In reality the true figure was close to 500,000 and United States troops were totally unprepared for the Tet Offensive.
Under President Richard Nixon, Helms agreed to implement what became known as the Huston Plan. This was a proposal for all the country's security services to combine in a massive internal surveillance operation. In doing so, Helms became involved in a secret conspiracy as it was illegal for the Central Intelligence Agency to operate within the United States.
In 1970 it seemed that Salvador Allende and his Socialist Workers' Party would win the general election in Chile. Various multinational companies, including International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT), feared what would happen if Allende gained control of the country. Helms agreed to use funds supplied by these companies to help the right-wing party gain power. When this strategy ended in failure, Nixon ordered Helms to help the Chilean armed forces to overthrow Allende. On 11th September, 1973, a military coup removed Allende's government from power. Allende died in the fighting in the presidential palace in Santiago and General Augusto Pinochet replaced him as president.
During the Watergate Scandal President Richard Nixon became concerned about the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency. Three of those involved in the burglary, E. Howard Hunt, Eugenio Martinez and James W. McCord had close links with the CIA. Nixon and his aides attempted to force the CIA director, Richard Helms, and his deputy, Vernon Walters, to pay hush-money to Hunt, who was attempting to blackmail the government. Although it seemed Walters was willing to do this, Helms refused. In February, 1973, Nixon sacked Helms. His deputy, Thomas H. Karamessines, resigned in protest. The following month Helms became U.S. Ambassador to Iran.
James Schlesinger now became the new director of the CIA. Schlesinger was heard to say: The clandestine service was Helmss Praetorian Guard. It had too much influence in the Agency and was too powerful within the government. I am going to cut it down to size. This he did and over the next three months over 7 per cent of CIA officers lost their jobs.
On 9th May, 1973, James Schlesinger issued a directive to all CIA employees: I have ordered all senior operating officials of this Agency to report to me immediately on any activities now going on, or might have gone on in the past, which might be considered to be outside the legislative charter of this Agency. I hereby direct every person presently employed by CIA to report to me on any such activities of which he has knowledge. I invite all ex-employees to do the same. Anyone who has such information should call my secretary and say that he wishes to talk to me about activities outside the CIAs charter.
There were several employees who had been trying to complain about the illegal CIA activities for some time. As Cord Meyer pointed out, this directive was a hunting license for the resentful subordinate to dig back into the records of the past in order to come up with evidence that might destroy the career of a superior whom he long hated.
In 1975 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began investigating the CIA. Senator Stuart Symington asked Richard Helms if the agency had been involved in the removal of Salvador Allende. Helms replied no. He also insisted that he had not passed money to opponents of Allende.
Investigations by the CIA's Inspector General and by Frank Church and his Select Committee on Intelligence Activities showed that Helms had lied to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They also discovered that Helms had been involved in illegal domestic surveillance and the murders of Patrice Lumumba, General Abd al-Karim Kassem and Ngo Dinh Diem. Helms was eventually found guilty of lying to Congress and received a suspended two-year prison sentence.
In its final report, issued in April 1976, the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities concluded: Domestic intelligence activity has threatened and undermined the Constitutional rights of Americans to free speech, association and privacy. It has done so primarily because the Constitutional system for checking abuse of power has not been applied. The committee also revealed details for the first time of what the CIA called Operation Mockingbird.
The committee also reported that the Central Intelligence Agency had withheld from the Warren Commission, during its investigation of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, information about plots by the Government of the United States against Fidel Castro of Cuba; and that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had conducted a counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO) against Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
On 16th May, 1978, John M. Whitten appeared before the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA). He criticised Richard Helms for not making a full disclosure about the Rolando Cubela plot to the Warren Commission. He added " I think that was a morally highly reprehensible act, which he cannot possibly justify under his oath of office or any other standard of professional service."
Whitten also said that if he had been allowed to continue with the investigation he would have sought out what was going on at JM/WAVE. This would have involved the questioning of Ted Shackley, David Sanchez Morales, Carl E. Jenkins, Rip Robertson, George Joannides, Gordon Campbell and Thomas G. Clines. As Jefferson Morley has pointed out in The Good Spy: "Had Whitten been permitted to follow these leads to their logical conclusions, and had that information been included in the Warren Commission report, that report would have enjoyed more credibility with the public. Instead, Whitten's secret testimony strengthened the HSCA's scathing critique of the C.I.A.'s half-hearted investigation of Oswald. The HSCA concluded that Kennedy had been killed by Oswald and unidentifiable co-conspirators."
John M. Whitten also told the HSCA that James Jesus Angleton involvement in the investigation of the assassination of John F. Kennedy was "improper". Although he was placed in charge of the investigation by Richard Helms, Angleton "immediately went into action to do all the investigating". When Whitten complained to Helms about this he refused to act.
Whitten believes that Angleton's attempts to sabotage the investigation was linked to his relationship with the Mafia. Whitten claims that Angleton also prevented a CIA plan to trace mob money to numbered accounts in Panama. Angleton told Whitten that this investigation should be left to the FBI. When Whitten mentioned this to a senior CIA official, he replied: "Well, that's Angleton's excuse. The real reason is that Angleton himself has ties to the Mafia and he would not want to double-cross them."
Whitten also pointed out that as soon as Angleton took control of the investigation he concluded that Cuba was unimportant and focused his internal investigation on Oswald's life in the Soviet Union. If Whitten had remained in charge he would have "concentrated his attention on CIA's JM/WAVE station in Miami, Florida, to uncover what George Joannides, the station chief, and operatives from the SIG and SAS knew about Oswald."
When he appeared before the HSCA Whitten revealed that he had been unaware of the CIA's Executive Action program. He added that he thought it possible that Lee Harvey Oswald might have been involved in this assassination operation.
Richard Helms died on 22nd October, 2002. As one commentator pointed out at the time: "Helms had gone to his grave with the sole knowledge of what Congress did not manage to uncover." His autobiography, A Look Over My Shoulder: A Life in the CIA, was published in 2003.
(1) David Wise and Thomas Ross, Invisible Government (1964)
The CIA is, of course, the biggest, most important and most influential branch of the Invisible Government. The agency is organized into four divisions: Intelligence, Plans, Research, Support, each headed by a deputy director.
The Support Division is the administrative arm of the CIA. It is in charge of equipment, logistics, security and communications. It devises the CIA's special codes, which cannot be read by other branches of the government.
The Research Division is in charge of technical intelligence. It provides expert assessments of foreign advances in science, technology and atomic weapons. It was responsible for analyzing the U-2 photographs brought back from the Soviet Union between 1956 and 1960. And it has continued to analyze subsequent U-2 and spy-satellite pictures. In this it works with the CIA in running the National Photo Intelligence Center.
Herbert "Pete" Scoville, who headed the Research Division for eight years, left in August of 1963 to become an assistant director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. He was replaced as the CIA's deputy director for research by Dr. Albert D. Wheelon.
The Plans Division is in charge of the CIA's cloak-and-dagger activities. It controls all foreign special operations, such as Guatemala and the Bay of Pigs, and it collects all of the agency's covert intelligence through spies and informers overseas.
Allen Dulles was the first deputy director for plans. He was succeeded as DDP by Frank Wisner, who was replaced in i958 by Bissell, who, in turn, was succeeded in 1962 by his deputy, Richard Helms.
A native of St. David's, Pennsylvania, Helms studied in Switzerland and Germany and was graduated from Williams College in 1935. He worked for the United Press and the Indianapolis Times, and then, during World War II, he served as a lieutenant commander in the Navy attached to the OSS. When the war ended and some OSS men were transferred to the CIA, he stayed on and rose through the ranks.
(2) Alan J. Weberman, Coup D'Etat in America: The CIA and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy (1975)
The man in charge of conducting the investigation of Oswald's activities abroad was Richard Helms. This seems odd since rather than being in charge of gathering intelligence, Helms was Deputy Director of Plans, a euphemism for head of the "dirty tricks" division, at the time. Helms was promoted to Director of the CIA by President Johnson and was serving in that capacity when Hunt obtained assistance from the Agency in conducting domestic operations including Watergate. Helms was eventually "kicked upstairs" by Nixon and is now the Ambassador to Iran. Before he left the Agency he ordered the destruction of all the tapes of his phone conversations dating back several years, including those with Nixon. He has been implicated in the recently exposed CIA domestic spying scandal."'
When evaluating the CIA reports on Oswald's activities in Mexico City, one must remember that Helms and his deputies Rocca and Karamessines put together the reports."' During the Watergate hearings Senator Baker asked Helms how well he knew Howard Hunt. Helms replied, "I knew him relatively well because he and I over many years worked for the same general section of the Agency."
(3) Cord Meyer, journal entry (1st February, 1969)
The day before yesterday Dick Helms, Tom Karamessines and I met with Nixon, his new Secretary of State, Rogers, and Henry Kissinger, his aide for National Security Affairs, in the cabinet room of the White House. Nixon was very self-assured, quick to ask the relevant questions and put us at our ease in talking to him. The taut and withdrawn young man whom I first met at the junior Chamber of Commerce awards dinner in Chattanooga, Tenn., more than twenty years ago was replaced by a man who struck me as confidently in possession of the enormous power of that office. We shall see what successive crises do to him, but I suspect he will be a far better President than I or my liberal friends ever expected. We shall see.
(4) John Ranelagh, The Agency: The Rise and Decline of the CIA (1986)
In 1970, when it looked as if the Marxist Salvador Allende would win the Chilean presidential election, Nixon ordered the CIA to intervene, in a covert action, in an attempt to prevent Allende from winning. Ten years earlier the agency would have risen to the challenge with enthusiasm. Now it responded with long faces and a calculation of the risk. "One in 10 chance, perhaps, but save Chile!" read Helms's note of his meeting with Nixon on September 15 when he was given his orders. "Worth spending. Not concerned risks involved. No involvement of embassy, $10,000,000 available, more if necessary. Full-time job-best men we have. Game plan. Make the economy scream. 48 hours for plan of action." Henry
P Heckscher, the CIA station chief in Santiago, had to be ordered to cease cabling his doubts to Washington about the agency's ability to stop Allende. He was finally ordered by the DDP, Thomas Karamessines, to return to headquarters, where he was dressed down for not understanding that this was something the CIA had to do even though it did not want to. When Heckscher returned to Santiago he told his staff that they had no choice. "Nobody," said Karamessines, "was going to go into the Oval Office, bang his fist on the table, and say we won't do it."
(5) H. R. Haldeman, The Ends of Power (1978)
So we had failed in our one previous attempt to obtain CIA co-operation, and now in Ehrlichman's office on June 23, 1972, the C.I.A. was stonewalling me again: 'Not connected.' 'No way.' Then I played Nixon's trump card. 'The President asked me to tell you this entire affair may be connected to the Bay of Pigs, and if it opens up, the Bay of Pigs may be blown....'
Turmoil in the room. Helms gripping the arms of his chair leaning forward and shouting, 'The Bay of Pigs had nothing to do with this. I have no concern about the Bay of Pigs.'
Silence. I just sat there. I was absolutely shocked by Helms' violent reaction. Again I wondered, what was such dynamite in the Bay of Pigs story? Finally, I said, 'I'm just following my instructions, Dick. This is what the President told me to relay to you.'
Helms was settling back. 'All right,' he said.
(6) Cord Meyer, Facing Reality: From World Federalism to the CIA (1983)
By refusing to participate in the Watergate cover-up, Helms preserved the institutional integrity of the CIA, but he also ensured the end of his career as director. Nixon waited until after his overwhelming election victory to deliver the coup de grace. Then, on November 20, he summoned Helms to Camp David. There were some serious budgetary issues to be resolved and, thinking these would be the subject of the meeting, Helms prepared himself to discuss these fiscal problems. Although, after the election, Nixon had asked his top officials to submit their resignations in order to start his new term with a clean slate, Helms had not offered his own resignation in the belief that the CIA directorship, in accordance with past tradition and precedent, should be kept separate from the election results and not become a political plum. He was therefore surprised when Nixon demanded his resignation at Camp David but subsequently accepted Nixon's offer of an ambassadorship, and chose Iran as a country where his past association with the Agency would not be likely to cause problems.
A few days later, James Schlesinger, then head of the Atomic Energy Commission, was called to Camp David and was offered the job of CIA director by Nixon.... In firing Helms so abruptly, Nixon was taking a chance that he might choose to retire from public life and use his newfound freedom to reveal the White House role in attempting to obstruct the FBI investigation of the Watergate affair and to bribe the participants. However, Nixon probably figured that Helms was too much the loyal public servant to damage the American presidency and its relation to the intelligence community by revealing this information....
In my dealings with Schlesinger, I quickly came to respect his capacity for sustained hard work and to realize that he was widely read and extremely intelligent. I never had any reason to complain in my own case of the personal rudeness that many others had cause to resent. However, I did quickly discover that he carried with him into his new job a firm conviction that the clandestine service which I temporarily headed exercised too dominant a role within the Agency, was out of phase with the intelligence requirements of the modern age, and was heavily overstaffed with aging veterans of past cold wars. Just where he had obtained these views I am not clear to this day, but Colby explains in his memoirs that he shared Schlesinger's convictions on this point and Colby's early briefings obviously must have had an influence. The resentment within the White House domestic staff against Helms and his close friends and associates may have also played some role. Whatever the reason, Schlesinger did not hide his distrust and dissatisfaction with the clandestine service, and reports reached me on a daily basis of derogatory remarks he had made - I'm sure some exaggerated in the telling and others purely apocryphal. For example, I received two separate accounts of a social occasion at which Schlesinger was reported to have stated, "The clandestine service was Helms's Praetorian Guard. It had too much influence in the Agency and was too powerful within the government. I am going to cut it down to size." Whether true or not, these stories were widely believed, and they did not make my job any easier in trying simultaneously to win the confidence of the new director and to sustain the morale of the people down the line...
Schlesinger was determined to track down and identify every possible piece of evidence that might bear on the Watergate affair. Only by being completely forthcoming with the congressional committees on Watergate could the Agency hope to put to rest the suspicions that it was deeply implicated, and any new discovery of unrevealed involvement would only confirm the general belief that we must somehow have been party to the cover-up. For this reason, Schlesinger issued a directive to all CIA employees on May 9, 1973, in which he stressed his determination to "do everything in my power to confine CIA activities to those which fall within a strict interpretation of its legislative charter."
It required a retrospective confession of any perceived guilt by all current and past Agency employees going back to the inception of the CIA in 1947. It was not limited to activities directly or indirectly connected with the Watergate affair. Since the legislative charter of the Agency laid down in the language of the National Security Act of 1947 had been deliberately made general and ambiguous, the directive invited the penitential employee to come forward with his own definition of what might be construed as outside that vague charter. We were required to sit in judgment on all past activities as to which one of them might conceivably have been illegal, improper, or unjustified under the broad language of the 1947 Act. It was a hunting license for the resentful subordinate to dig back into the records of the past in order to come up with evidence that might destroy the career of a superior whom he had long hated. It was an invitation to the self-righteous and the moralistically inclined to resurrect "old unhappy, far-off things, And battles long ago" in an effort to prove in the perspective of the present that they had been right in the dimly remembered past. There are very few human institutions in this world, from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Boy Scouts, that could survive in good working order so broad an injunction to confess all past improprieties or mistakes in judgment, least of all an intelligence agency whose job it is to operate outside the law in foreign countries.
In his interview with me in October 1978, Schlesinger admitted that he had made a serious mistake in issuing a directive so sweeping in scope and so open-ended in time, and in retrospect he wished he had not done so. Schlesinger asserted that he had been primarily concerned with identifying any hidden involvement in Watergate and that he should have restricted his order to that subject. However, he explained that Colby had drafted the directive for his signature and that he had signed it as drafted without giving sufficient thought to its far-reaching implications. In fairness to both Schlesinger and Colby, it should be added that neither of them foresaw that the results of this confessional enterprise would eventually leak to the press; they believed instead that the findings could be used within the Agency to reform past practices and improve existing regulations. They were also motivated by an understandable desire to be fully informed on anything that might rise from the past in the course of the congressional investigations and to be in a position to assure the Congress that remedial action had already been taken.
In the event, the compilation of all possible past misdeeds that flowed from Schlesinger's directive was accomplished with less internal damage than might have been the case in a less disciplined organization. Colby was designated by Schlesinger to oversee the preparation of a report based on all available records and the testimony of those who came forward to confess. Employing the staff of the CIA inspector general, Colby pursued the project with penitential zeal and by May 21, 1973, had collected 693 pages describing all past instances in which the Agency's legislative charter might conceivably have been violated." Individual officers racked their memories for any activity they could recall that might be questionable, and dutifully submitted their reports. The process was certainly thorough, but the results were necessarily skewed by a number of factors. With the passage of time, memories had dulled, crucial witnesses had died or could not be found, and the written record was not always complete. The chain of approval up the line to the policymakers was sometimes deliberately obscure in order to protect the President. Most significant, activity undertaken at the height of the cold war and in a period of direct confrontation with the Soviets had a different aspect in the milder climate of detente. A retrospective severity of judgment tended to color the findings.
For example, Colby's early determination that the opening by the Agency of mail between American citizens and correspondents in the Soviet Union in the period between 1953 and 1973 was clearly illegal was later called into question by the Department of Justice. In his book, Colby makes the point that "opening first-class mail was a direct violation of a criminal statute; I looked it up in the law library to make sure." On the basis of this superficial finding, the mail opening program was cited by Colby as a particularly egregious example of an illegal violation of the Agency's legislative charter. When the story of the Agency's past misdeeds finally broke in the press in December 1974, this mail opening operation figured as a prime example of how the Agency had illegally violated the rights of American citizens, and with scare headlines across the country the American people were made to feel that the CIA had functioned as a domestic Gestapo in operating beyond the law.
(7) H. R. Haldeman, The Ends of Power (1978)
Years later, former C.B.S. correspondent Dan Schorr called me. He was seeking information concerning the F.B.I. investigation Nixon had mounted against him in August, 1971.
Schorr later sent me his fascinating book Clearing the Air. In it I was interested to find that evidence he had gleaned while investigating the C.I.A. finally cleared up for me the mystery of the Bay of Pigs connection in those dealings between Nixon and Helms. 'It's intriguing when I put Schorr's facts together with mine. It seems that in all of those Nixon references to the Bay of Pigs, he was actually referring to the Kennedy assassination.
(Interestingly, an investigation of the Kennedy assassination was a project I suggested when I first entered the White House. I had always been intrigued with the conflicting theories of the assassination. Now I felt we would be in a position to get all the facts. But Nixon turned me down.)
According to Schorr, as an outgrowth of the Bay of Pigs, the CIA made several attempts on Fidel Castro's life. The Deputy Director of Plans at the CIA at the time was a man named Richard Helms.
Unfortunately, Castro knew of the assassination attempts all the time. On September 7, 1963, a few months before John Kennedy was assassinated, Castro made a speech in which he was quoted, 'Let Kennedy and his brother Robert take care of themselves, since they, too, can be the victims of an attempt which will cause their death.'
After Kennedy was killed, the CIA launched a fantastic cover-up. Many of the facts about Oswald unavoidably pointed to a Cuban connection.
1. Oswald had been arrested in New Orleans in August, 1963, while distributing pro-Castro pamphlets.
2. On a New Orleans radio programme he extolled Cuba and defended Castro.
3. Less than two months before the assassination Oswald visited the Cuban consulate in Mexico City and tried to obtain a visa.
In a chilling parallel to their cover-up at Watergate, the CIA literally erased any connection between. Kennedy's assassination and the CIA No mention of the Castro assassination attempt was made to the Warren Commission by CIA representatives. In fact, Counter-intelligence Chief James Angleton of the CIA called Bill Sullivan of the FBI and rehearsed the questions and answers they would give to the Warren Commission investigators, such as these samples:
Q. Was Oswald an agent of the C.I.A?
Q. Does the CIA have any evidence showing that a conspiracy existed to assassinate Kennedy?
And here's what I find most interesting: Bill Sullivan, the FBI man that the CIA called at the time, was Nixon's highest-ranking loyal friend at the FBI (in the Watergate crisis, he would risk J. Edgar Hoover's anger by taking the 1969 FBI wiretap transcripts ordered by Nixon and delivering them to, Robert Mardian, a Mitchell crony, for safekeeping).
It's possible that Nixon learned from Sullivan something about the earlier CIA cover-up by Helms. And when Nixon said, 'It's likely to blow the whole Bay of Pigs' he might have been reminding Helms, not so gently, of the cover-up of the CIA assassination attempts on the hero of the Bay of Pigs, Fidel Castro - a CIA operation that may have triggered the Kennedy tragedy and which Helms desperately wanted to hide.
(8) Cord Meyer, Facing Reality: From World Federalism to the CIA (1983)
After the war, he (Thomas Karamessines) joined the CIA at its inception and devoted his entire life to government service at far less monetary reward than he could have earned in private practice. He retired from the Agency after Helms was fired by Nixon, and died prematurely in the fall of 1978 of a heart attack. At his funeral in Washington, the church was crowded with his friends. His wife had chosen his favorite hymns, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "America the Beautiful," and as we sang those familiar words they were lent such new meaning by the steadfast loyalty of his life and work that there were few dry eyes among us. There was no flamboyance in him, and he shunned publicity, so that few of the American people realized when he died what a true guardian of their interests they had lost.
(9) Richard Helms, A Look Over My Shoulder: A Life in the CIA (2003)
The events concerning that every-so-sad day have all been laid bare and documented. I have only a few observations to make. First, all of the speculation and conspiratology notwithstanding. I have not seen anything, no matter how far-fetched or grossly imagined, that in any way changes my conviction that Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated Kennedy, and that there were no co-conspirators.
© John Simkin, March 2013