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An Interview with Richard Helms

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Osborne, I believe it was a Saturday evening, but then the papers the next morning made no mention of Hunt's name at all. So on Monday when we had our staff meeting, I turned to somebody and said "Osborne tells me that Hunt is involved in this. I haven't seen his name in any of the papers. How come he is making that allegation?"
   
Then I called Osborne and he said that Hunt was involved in it and in what way.
   
So during the 24 hours in between, I was more concerned about the names in the paper than I was about Hunt.
   
To go back just a moment, I don't know why Gray didn't believe me when I told him early-on back at the time of the Watergate break-in, that those fellows were involved with Ehrlichman. I did tell him that. I am certain he will tell you I told him. But for some reason his people seemed to feel that the Agency was involved. But I didn't hold back from the head of the FBI. As a matter of fact, I told him in a telephone call I made at the time of the break-in. I think he was in Los Angeles. I said, "You'd better watch out because these fellows may have some connection with Ehrlichman." I knew Ehrlichman was the one who had arranged for the hiring of Howard Hunt.
   
We were notified when the White House hired Hunt. We were never asked about it beforehand. We never asked about his background or anything. Not that it might have changed the course of history, but it interested me that the White House hired him without ever going to his employer of many years standing for a recommendation or a reference.
   
There have been allegations since, whether in books by prosecutors or commitee reports, that while the CIA wasn't involved and didn't know about Watergate in advance, it could have been more cooperative sooner. Do you regret that the CIA didn't blow the whistle a bit quicker and perhaps shorten the agony of Watergate?
   
I don't think that it would have shortened the Watergate agony. That should have ended in 1974 with President Nixon's resignation, but it seems to have been continuing. Something in our psyche likes to keep working this one over. My problem as Director was to distance the Agency from anything which looked like involvement. That problem began the minute the announcements about the break-in were made. Who were those fellows? They were Cubans that had worked for the CIA. There was McCord and there was Howard Hunt.
   
I knew that we were not in any way culpable with respect to Watergate, and it seemed to me that the thing I had to do and what I was paid to do, was to adhere to truth, to distance the Agency from the whole problem.
   
I recognize that I have been accused of not having turned out my pockets and made everything available to the prosecutors, but the fact remains that their office and the FBI and so forth were leaking information to the press in a way that looked very dangerous to me.
   
If I had said to them, "talk to this man, here is a fellow who did such and such," the next thing you know we would never be able to unsnarl the Agency from the Watergate thing.
   
If I was wrong, I was wrong. Monday morning quarterbacks always have a better way to play the game.
   
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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM
Last Updated: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM