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An Interview with Richard Helms

UNCLASSIFIED

integrity and trust,
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to warn of the Yom-Kippur War, and that it thought that Allende was likely to win the Chilean election, albeit not with the plurality.
Do you think he was right on those three things?
We did miscalculate the flow of arms, weapons and supplies provided to the Viet Cong or North Vietnamese forces through the port of Sihanoukville in Cambodia. The economists built a model to try to do so, and we underestimated, I think rather considerably underestimated, what was going through Sihanoukville. Later, when we had access to things in Cambodia, and found the bills of lading for the ships that had called at Sihanoukville, they totalled up to a larger volume than we had estimated.
As for the Yom-Kippur War, I was in Tehran as ambassador and I don't know the merits of that case.
I don't see how he could assert that we were mistaken on Chile, because we said relatively early on there was a very real question whether Allende could be defeated. And all of that hugger-mugger that took place in Chile was a result of that estimate. I can't imagine that President Nixon should have been surprised when Allende was the winner.
Did the Nixonian idea that there must be a sort of "bamboo pentagon" somewhere in Cambodia, a sort of "Dr. No's Palace," to be found by the April 30 incursion, emanate from the CIA?
They were looking for but never found something called "COSVN" which was the North Vietnamese Command of the forces in South Vietnam. The CIA had no illusions of a "bamboo pentagon." We knew that there was kind of a command structure which may have been no more than a General and two or three aides and maybe a table that moved from place to place, but you can't run armies without communications and without a headquarters.
If President Nixon had kept the American troops in the area longer and really had cleaned it out, as the operation was designed to do, I think we would have found a lot more. But the operation started and then stopped suddenly and the troops withdrew because of domestic pressures in the United States. It is hard to say today that there was no headquarters in there just because we didn't find it.
There are people who told us that the idea of an incursion into Cambodia was one of Nixon's greatest passions, and that in fact there was a good deal of information, that such an incursion would not be successful, that you had some of that material but you thought that it was hopeless to show it to Nixon because he was intent on doing it come what may. Did you have evidence that the thing wouldn't be a success that you didn't give to Nixon?
I don't really know, in this context, how you define success. We did our very best to provide Mr. Nixon information on what we thought was there. There was a very real concern about what would happen if Cambodia were invaded. We had no illusions about domestic dissent in the United States, either, but that wasn't our job to assess.
It has always seemed to me, quite frankly, that President Nixon early-on paid a very high price for that invasion and therefore should have seen it through to the bitter end. It didn't help him any to pull out before it was finished. And we will never know whether it could have been more productive.

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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM
Last Updated: Aug 03, 2011 03:09 PM