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An Interview with Richard Helms

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integrity and trust,
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What would happen if we were to disband the clandestine services?
We would run a real risk, particularly with a country as powerful and having as good an intelligence service as the USSR. They would simply run us off the map in the rest of the world-if they are not doing so already.
Presumably the public must accept the fact that for clandestine activities to work, some of it has to be dirty work by definition?
It is by definition. I believe that the American public is mature enough to understand. Except for certain very shrill voices, you don't find very much ill-will when you travel around and talk to people in this country. They think it is quite sensible that we should protect ourselves. We have a right to survive, to protect our way of life. The allegation that the Agency and the FBI have eroded our civil liberties is nonsense.
This country has never been more democratic than it is today. Civil rights have never been so vigorously defended. How anyone can say that their personal liberties have been impinged upon by these various things, except in the abstract or theoretically, I don't know.
Should the American public trust CIA employees or anyone with engaging in "dirty work" in their behalf?
A professional intelligence service is essential to our survival.
Who are these CIA people, after all? They are the men and women living next door, down the street or across town-these are normal Americans who have gone through an extraordinary experience to get into the Agency in the first place.
They are interviewed, then they take a difficult intelligence test and if they get through that they take a probing psychological test to establish their stability and their personality and so forth. They are then the subject of a detailed security investigation during which their entire past, from the time they were born, is combed out. Last but not least, they are asked to submit voluntarily to a lie detector test in which they are asked very intimate questions.
These are people serving this country very well and very loyally and very patriotically, in some cases under very difficult circumstances. But too often they are reviled and cast as second-class citizens.
If this is the way the public wants to deal with its intelligence professionals, then we ought to disband the Agency and go back to the way we were before World War II. Otherwise, it is up to the citizens of this country, the Congress and the President, to support these people and to support them adequately or else there is no reason to expect them to do these kinds of dirty jobs. It isn't fair, it isn't right, and it won't work.
We went from a hot war, World War II, into a Cold War, and then into something called Detente. Are we back in a Cold War situation today?
I happen to agree with George Will who says we have never left the Cold War. The underlying antipathy between the East and the West is as real today as it was when Winston Churchill warned in 1945 about the Iron Curtain descending over Central Europe. Detente was a term used to describe limited efforts by the U.S. and USSR to get on a better footing and a better relationship, and there was nothing wrong with attempting to do so. But the basic hostility between us and the goals which the Soviet Union has espoused from Lenin through Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, have not changed.

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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM
Last Updated: Aug 03, 2011 03:06 PM