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An Interview with Richard Helms

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integrity and trust,
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AN INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD HELMS*

As you look back over your long career in the CIA what would you say was the high point, the greatest moment, and what was the lowest or the saddest?
Well, it is a little difficult to say what was the greatest moment because there was some success that was not manifest, perhaps, to the public. I think that one of the high points was the time that we predicted beforehand how long the Six Day War would last almost within a matter of hours. In other words, before the war began we told President Johnson that it wouldn't last more than seven days no matter what combination of forces was brought to bear by the Arabs.
When you come as close as that in the intelligence business, it has to be regarded pretty much a triumph.
I think the lowest point came after I had left when in 1975, during the investigations, I saw what was happening to the Agency and heard the charges being brought against it and saw the amount of material pushed into the public domain at the time. I think that was probably the lowest point. It was not while I was in the Agency itself.
If you'd known at the outset what you know now, how many things would you have done differently in your life?
That is impossible to answer, as you knew when you asked it. But if you mean would I spend a good part of my life as I did working on intelligence, I would be glad to repeat the experience, because I think that it was not only useful to try and get intelligence established in this country, I think it was a help to the country. I was interested in it. I enjoyed working at it and I would like to do it over again if I had to retrace my steps.
With minor modifications?
Certainly with some minor modifications, but that is true of everyone. But in the last analysis the association with the people and the work in intelligence has been a privilege and anybody who is fortunate enough to work there is a fortunate man indeed.
If you were drawing up a balance sheet to answer the question, "Okay, what have we got out of having the CIA since 1947? What are its triumphs? What has it achieved?" What would be your sort of condensed balance sheet?
It would be that we had brought into being and had, up to a point, settled into American society an intelligence organization which not only was designed to prevent
*Adapted from an interview with Mr. Helms taped by David Frost in Washington, 22-23 May 1978.

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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM
Last Updated: Aug 03, 2011 03:05 PM