An Interview with Richard Helms


integrity and trust,
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and his demise, and the third-written by John McCone-made it clear that the Agency had had nothing to do with President Diem's being killed in Vietnam.
You wanted to hear directly from the President that he wanted these documents. What were your misgivings?
The documents dealt with episodes that had occurred on other Presidents' watches and I wanted to be very sure that Mr. Nixon, himself, wanted them and that they were not going to fall into the wrong hands or be used for purposes other than what I thought might be proper.
It turned out that that was not the design, but I didn't know this. I just simply wanted to be sure that this wasn't an Assistant to the President asking for information which might be used politically. It seemed only proper to me that the President himself should ask for them.
Given that the motive of the President himself seems now to have been political, was that abuse of the Agency?
It might have been. He assured me at the time that he would protect the Agency, that he did not intend to use the documents for political purposes. I had no choice other than to accept his word. But I don't think in the end that actually they were used for any nefarious purposes.
Do you think there was abuse of the CIA by the Nixon administration?
I think that the effort to involve the CIA on 23 June 1972, vis-a-vis the FBI, was an abuse. So, too, was the effort by Mr. Dean to get us to put up bail money and so forth for the break-in men. I don't recall anything else. The materials for Howard Hunt and certain related things I didn't like, and it may just be that we should have stood up more firmly against the requests even though we didn't know what they were for. I mean all of those second guesses by the Monday morning quarterbacks do come at issue, but the things I have mentioned were real abuses. Had we gotten involved in those, I think the consequences for the Agency would have been very serious.
The Epstein book, Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald, which tries to pull together a lot of fragmented information, contains two great mystery quotes of Nixon. Presumably when he said, "We protected Helms from a lot of things," when he actually probably meant the CIA, and when he said, "Bring out the whole Bay of Pigs thing," he meant the assassination plots against Castro?
Well, Mr. Nixon makes clear in his book and also has made clear in an affidavit in a law case, that the only thing he meant when he said, "We have done a lot of things for Helms," was that he helped me get a lawyer appointed in the Department of justice to seek to enjoin Marchetti from publishing a book about the Agency. That is the only case mentioned in his book, and the only case mentioned in a legal affidavit, and I assume that is the only case he had in mind. I know of no favors he did me, other than the perfectly official interchange of business.
As for the Bay of Pigs, I don't know what Haldeman was talking about. All I knew was that that was a failure that the Agency had had, but I didn't see any reason to drag it into conversations that we were having at the time. The efforts to upset Castro are well-known and I didn't have a moment's thought about this.
So if this is Haldeman's interpretation, it is his and his alone.
When I talked to Richard Nixon in Monarch Bay in the Spring of '77 his criticism of the CIA was that it had not done a good job on Cambodia, that it failed

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