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An Interview with Richard Helms

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realize that I am opening myself up to criticism about the public's right to know, but the public's right to know is the Russian's right to know. It is everybody else's right to know. The Russians read our newspapers and our magazines and our technical journals very carefully indeed.
  
Colby says in his book that he felt that he had to go to the Attorney General's office and that it was an unpleasant thing for him to do and so on. How do you feel about it?
  
Obviously I have always wondered why he did it, but I haven't anything further to say. If he felt he had to do it, then he did and it has been done. I would have preferred, however, that he had gone first to the President, his boss, and said "Mr. President, I am going to turn over this material on one of my predecessors and I just want you to know it is being turned over to the Attorney General."
  
Have you seen Mr. Colby on a personal basis since he decided that he had to advise the Attorney General's office that you might have committed perjury in the Chile hearings?
  
We have seen each other in public since that time, but we haven't had any detailed conversation. But I don't mark it from that time. I just haven't had any detailed conversation with him since sometime in 1975 when I went to his office for lunch and talked about a particular situation. That was the last time I had any conversation with him.
  
In retrospect, do you agree with the findings of the Rockefeller Commission that some domestic activities, such as Operation Chaos, exceeded the CIA's statutory authority?
  
Yes, I think there were two or three cases in the Operation Chaos context where we went too far. I would like to explain though, if I may, that the word "chaos," which has such an unhappy connotation, was not chosen because it was descriptive of the operation. You will remember that Winston Churchill always said that you should have happy optimistic cryptonyms when engaged in any big undertaking in the world. This was not all that big an undertaking. We didn't think anything about it at the time. But, I have noticed since that the word "chaos," although only a cryptonym, has been seized on as an indication of some terrible thing that the Agency was involved in, whereas in point of fact, the operation was an attempt to collect information on foreign involvement with American dissidents and domestic bombings and things of that kind.
  
What about the mail opening, HTLINGUAL or SRPOINTER from '52 - '73? The Rockefeller Commission said that was unlawful. Do you think it shouldn't have happened?
  
Mail opening is a very important counterintelligence technique, particularly if it can be done as we did it, under conditions of secrecy. Whether it should have continued as long as it did is debatable, but it was useful at the outset. The Korean War was just winding down and then American soldiers were being killed in Viet Nam. We were looking for evidence of the involvement of Americans with the Soviets and so forth. After all, the Soviets were backing the North Vietnamese, just as they had backed the North Koreans.
  
I can't imagine that Allen Dulles embarked on the program without President Eisenhower's knowledge. President Kennedy was briefed. There is some controversy over whether I informed President Johnson, but I am relatively certain that I did on 10
  
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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM
Last Updated: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM