An Interview with Richard Helms


integrity and trust,
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Do you think that the weakened position of the intelligence community has made our ability to warn of another Pearl Harbor questionable?
I am not so concerned about that aspect. We have a first-rate indications and warning capability. The Central Intelligence Agency still has a top-notch analytical and estimative capability. There is nothing secret about that function of the CIA. Pearl Harbor might have been avoided or its impact lessened had information available been brought together and properly analyzed and presented to the leaders of the United States.
The clandestine service established by Executive Order can contribute only a small amount of information compared to the hoard acquired by other means. Nevertheless, sometimes that tiny bit can be terribly important-particularly if it tells you what the other fellow's intentions are.
There are two memorable quotes in your speech of 1971. The first, as you may have guessed, is, "I cannot, then, give an easy answer to the objections raised by those who consider intelligence work incompatible with democratic principles." And, "The Nation must, to a degree, take it on faith that we too are honorable men devoted to our service." Do you stand by both, and if you would want to amplify them now?
I stand by them. I think they sound fine.
You still couldn't give an easy answer to those who are worried?
I could not. In fact, I think that it has even become more difficult, because the problems have multiplied as a result of the charges, the allegations, and the efforts to write charter legislation in the Congress, and so forth. In a democratic society there are endless ambiguities; it is inevitable by the very nature of the society in which we live. These things cannot be made black and white; there have to be gray areas.
We have to do the best we can, take some chances and hope for the best. And this is why I advocate that authority over a Clandestine Service should be in the Office of the President where it is now, that it should have Congressional oversight, certainly, but that the responsibility should not be shared. The President is the Commander-inChief of the Armed Forces, he is the formulator of American foreign policy; intelligence is a tool available to him.
How would you compare Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon in their approach to the CIA? In what way were they different to deal with?
The CIA got off to a very weak, rocky start with President Kennedy because the Bay of Pigs came along not long after he was inaugurated and after that we had to pick up the pieces. One dealt with him on a personal and very straight forward basis. He held a lot of meetings, calling to the White House experts at lower levels in the government in an effort to find out to his satisfaction what the facts in any given case were. He wouldn't even have the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Defense there. Gradually, I think by the time 1963 had rolled around, we had rather reestablished ourselves, and he could see the Agency's good points, as well as the warts, if you like.
As for President Johnson, it was not very clear to him, I believe, what role intelligence could play until the Six Day War in 1967 when suddenly he realized that intelligence could be premonitory and could keep him informed in a way that was helpful to him. After that, I was invited to the so-called Tuesday lunches which he held almost weekly. I did not play a policy role, however. I don't want to be misunderstood on that score. But I was at the table. If I may put it this way, having me

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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM
Last Updated: Aug 03, 2011 03:07 PM