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An Interview with Richard Helms

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I have no recollection of President Johnson ever enjoining me in this fashion. I don't think it happened, but I obviously can't swear to it.
 
One of the most interesting incidents in your life must have been when you had the opportunity to interview Hitler.
 
It was unforgettable, particularly since I was only 23 years old and didn't expect it. It was only on Saturday afternoon (the day before) that I had been invited to have lunch with the Fuehrer. He talked with us for almost an hour, so that I had a chance, being as close to him as I am to you, to hear his views and see his gestures, the expressions on his face, how he treated various questions and so on.
 
One of the problems of dealing with history is that everybody wants to run it together-run it on real time, rather than historical time. But this happened in 1936 when one couldn't help being impressed then with how astute he was in the geopolitical sense, what a good politician he was, German-style. He understood his people very well, what they wanted, what their aspirations were, how to appeal to them.
 
The luncheon took place in connection with the Party Congress which was run annually in Nuremberg and in the course of the conversation somebody asked him "Why have this party congress?" He said, "Well, this is the way I reward the faithful party workers.... Besides, they come for two days and then they go back home, and it is exactly the kind of an operation that the German railways would be involved in if we had a mobilization, so it is very good practice." The statement gives you pause in the light of what happened later.
 
Whereas former secret agents in Britain tend to defect to the Russians, in America former secret agents tend to defect to their publishers. When you look at somebody like Phillip Agee would you describe what he does as treason or what?
 
I find the terminology a little bit difficult to come by. I am not a lawyer and I realize that certain words have legal implications which other words do not have, but I don't have any difficulty agreeing that what he did and the way he did it was treasonable.
 
What about people like Frank Snepp that have a moral crusade about the fall of Saigon or Stockwell talking about Angola?
 
Well, I would think of them in a different category entirely. I am not in favor of turning off dissent or suppressing disagreement. The thing that I think somewhat unfortunate about Snepp and Stockwell is that they published without abiding by earlier agreements both made to clear their writings with the Agency. It doesn't seem to me that is such a bad agreement. I can't conceive that the points that these gentlemen wanted to make about mistakes and misfeasance and so forth would have been censored by anybody at the CIA. They certainly were not classified or anything. I don't know why they didn't go the normal course and submit their books for review.
 
It is very different, it seems to me, to want to correct abuses by making points in a book rather than by going out and comprising the names of agents in a way designed to do harm literally to human beings. And that is what I criticize about Agee.
 

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