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An Interview with Richard Helms

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The only time that there was a real question in my mind as to what was going on was at the 23 June 1972 meeting because neither Walters nor I, especially, could figure out what this was all about. Everyone must realize that at that time we knew nothing about money being laundered in Mexico, we knew nothing about money at all.
  
We couldn't figure out what the preoccupation with Mexico was. We didn't want to bring Walters into that aspect of it too much because he had only been with the Agency for six weeks, but after all he is a clever man and he obviously was wondering, too, about why they were interested in Mexico and what was going on down there that might cause a problem for the CIA.
  
When I left that office that day, therefore, I was in a quandary trying to figure out what we could be involved with here.
  
But you must remember, as I had said earlier, the President was the boss, and if he had information about something that I apparently didn't have, I wanted to find out what it was and see what it portended for the Agency or for any of us.
  
So when I got back to the Agency and we finally got to working on these things, I realized that there was nothing in Mexico that was going to affect our operations. Gray eventually was told this when we had been able to ascertain it.
  
Then gradually those several names came to light. They didn't mean anything to us at the time. It was only later that I understood that they had to do with something in this line of laundering the money.
  
So, during that period, that weekend Walters and I talked frequently and later on Dean called Walters down on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
  
If you had to choose an adjective to characterize your personal relationship with J. Edgar Hoover, what word would you choose?
  
I can't choose any adjective except "correct." I used to see Mr. Hoover at an occasional reception and we held very pleasant conversations on those occasions. In some respects, I came to know him relatively well-in contradistinction to most because he never saw very many outsiders.
  
When I say I came to know him relatively well, that is only by contrast; other people didn't know him at all. We always greeted each other with proper respect and cordiality. It has been said often that we didn't meet very frequently in a formal way. The reason I didn't call on him more frequently, rather than handle the business between the agencies through liaison officers or memoranda, was that when I went to his office I was lectured the entire time and then left when it was time to leave. I could barely get a word in edgewise. I used to succeed a little bit when I had something important to talk about, but Mr. Hoover liked to dominate the conversation, and he was quite a figure around this town for 40 years. A lot of people are throwing arrows at him and saying unkind things about him now. I didn't see very many people including Presidents, who said unkind things about him when he was in office.
 
One of the reasons that is given for the feeling that you may have felt no more than correct toward him is that throughout the Nixon administration Hoover was adding legal attaches to embassies around the world every time he saw Nixon and that he was encroaching on your territory. Broadly speaking, is that so?
  
Broadly speaking, it is accurate, but it really had nothing to do with this, socalled, breakdown of relations because, after all, we were grown-up people. I
  
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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM
Last Updated: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM