An Interview with Richard Helms

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drug that caused him to act in such an aberrant fashion. There were a number of things going on that puzzled us.*
We felt that it was our responsibility not to lag behind the Russians or the Chinese in this field, and the only way to find out what the risks were was to test things such as LSD and other drugs that could be used to control human behavior.
These experiments went on for many years. There is the inevitable question of whether they should have been ended sooner.
Allen Dulles, who was the Director back in those days, authorized this thing to be undertaken, but we all felt that we would have been derelict not to investigate this area.
Who else in government was going to investigate it? It was our field. Maybe our people abroad would be administered drugs. In other words, in a defensive way we felt we would have failed in our responsibilities if we hadn't investigated what was there, if anything.
The commission said it is clearly illegal to test potentially dangerous drugs on unsuspecting US citizens.
There was one instance in which that was the case, and in retrospect I agree we should not have done it.
There is virtually no drug-related MK-ULTRA material in the files, we gather? In terms of destruction of those files, the seven boxes of progress reports that I think you had recalled from the Archives and destroyed on 31 January, was a booklet called "LSD 25, Some Unpsychedelic Implications." Why did you decide to do that?
It was a conscious decision that there were a whole series of things that involved Americans who had helped us with the various aspects of this testing, with whom we had had a fiduciary relationship and whose participation we had agreed to keep secret. Since this was a time when both I and the fellow who had been in charge of the program were going to retire there was no reason to have the stuff around anymore. We kept faith with the people who had helped us and I see nothing wrong with that.
In principle, do you think there is ever an occasion when somebody has a right to lie in the national interest?
I don't recall specific episodes, but it seems to me that if one goes through history there are examples of it and that it has been upheld by public opinion at the time. I don't encourage lying. I have never been confronted with this problem. I testified many years before various Congressional committees cleared to hear my testimony.
*  The remarks in question were delivered at a plane side press conference at Templehof in Berlin on 19 February 1952. Ambassador Kennan, en route to a Chiefs of Mission meeting in London had learned shortly before his departure from Moscow that his study in Spaso House had been bugged and had seen Soviet militia keeping Soviet children away from his two year old son at play in the Embassy garden. In his own words, he was both depressed and irate. He thought that his remarks to the press in Berlin were off the record, but later admitted that they and particularly a young reporter for the Herald Tribune may not have sensed his intent. In any event when asked by the reporter for the Tribune whether diplomats in Moscow enjoyed social contacts with the Russian people, Kennan snappishly compared life in the Embassy in Moscow with that he had known in an internment camp where he was imprisoned by the Germans in 194142.
On 26 September he was attacked by Pravda in an editorial which said he'd "lied ecstatically" and made "slanderous attacks" on the Soviet Union. He was declared persona non grata on 3 October.
For a full account of the incident see Memoirs 1950-1963, Volume 2, George F. Kerman, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1972, pp 145-167.


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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM
Last Updated: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM