Remarks of Director of the Central Intelligence Agency,
at the Helms Symposium, Georgetown University
(as prepared for delivery)
April 28, 2008
Good afternoon everyone. It’s a
pleasure to be here at Georgetown,
especially for this event.
Today we present
the largest set of documents ever released relating to the work of a true
pioneer of the American Intelligence Community and a dedicated servant of the
Republic, Richard Helms. The Central Intelligence Agency once again has
partnered with a university to make available to the public a major collection of
formerly classified material. And, for the first time, we’ve combined official
documents with an even larger body of personal papers, graciously donated by
the Helms family. We now have the most complete picture ever assembled of the man
many consider to be the quintessential CIA director.
of historical works, cable drafts, essays, interviews, photographs, and video
offers an unprecedented, wide-ranging look at Richard Helms and his career. It allows
us to better understand the major contributions he made to both the
Intelligence Community and to our country. And it offers insight into the
difficult decisions he made while serving as Director of Central Intelligence
and Ambassador to Iran,
two exceptionally demanding assignments during a turbulent era for our country
and the world.
student of history, I look forward to the perspectives of our next panel of
experts. Richard Helms is one of the commanding figures of the American
intelligence profession. The challenges he confronted during his nearly seven
years as DCI mirror those we face today, and his rich legacy of decision and action—always
thoughtful and direct, never diluted by ambiguity—gives us much to consider and
like to speak briefly this afternoon on what his legacy means to me. There is a
distinct continuity across the decades in terms of a CIA director’s
responsibilities and concerns, and I will comment on some of them—and on how
Richard Helms, perhaps more than anyone else, defined how the job is done.
Helms last occupied the seventh-floor suite out at Langley some 35 years ago. For those of us
who have been honored to work there since, his record of accomplishment has
been an inspiration.
There are many reasons for his
enduring influence. He was a wise and decisive leader, with a strength of
character to match. He was a master of human intelligence collection, which is
why our field operations training center bears his name. And, as the first truly
modern CIA Director, Richard Helms set precedents that have guided each of his
Let me define what I mean by “modern.”
In the tumultuous era of the Vietnam War and Watergate, the American people
demanded greater transparency from their government—including its intelligence
agencies. In practice, it meant there was a new task in the director’s inbox: the
need to explain publicly CIA’s essential role and critical impact.
As an OSS man and a member of CIA’s
founding generation, Richard Helms had risen through the ranks of an Agency
that took a sweeping view of the degree of secrecy it needed to fulfill its
mission. At the same time, he strongly believed that an intelligence agency
serves society—not the other way around. He had an abiding commitment to the
American intelligence officer’s social contract with the American people.
CIA is a secret
organization, but our social contract requires us to build a public consensus
on the need for strong intelligence. Our open democracy requires a secret
intelligence service as much as other forms of government do, if not more so. And
the people have to be comfortable that we’re conducting our mission in a way
that is consistent with their expectations.
Helms understood this well and chose to express his thoughts on the issue publicly,
a move that was exceptionally rare at the time for a serving director. In an
address to the Council on Foreign Relations in 1967, he spoke of the changing
times and an intelligence agency’s proper role in a free society. I quote:
The area of intelligence over which we can
maintain the traditional secrecy has been steadily reduced. An important
reason…is the conflict built into the conduct of secret operations in a free
society…The nation must to a degree take it on faith that we too are honorable
men devoted to her service. We are alleged to be out of control and
irresponsible in action. We are neither. For intelligence is the servant of the
Government, not its master. We will undertake to do what the authorities ask us
to do, no more and we hope no less.
first time, a CIA Director took his case directly to the American people. He
spoke to them without pulling any punches, in a manner as direct and concise as
he would address his fellow officers. And as he defended the institution of
intelligence, he made a point of publicly defending its people, too—another fundamental
responsibility of a CIA Director in the modern era.
familiar with our Agency knows the men and women of CIA want to take risks to
collect the intelligence we need to keep America safe. The Director’s job is
to ensure our people have the right incentives, the right support, the right
top cover, and the right leadership to take those risks. The job, frankly, is
to set the conditions for success.
And for a
workforce that by definition doesn’t have a public voice of its own, the
Director must speak for them as well. He must remind the country that Agency
officers who work at Langley
and around the world aren’t separated from the American political culture. They
are completely part of it. They are affected by what goes on in the broader
political culture, and by the nation’s discourse on their work.
objectivity [that] makes our people so valuable to their country,” Richard
Helms said, “makes them uncomfortably aware of their ambiguous place in it. They
understand as well as anyone the difficulties and contradictions of conducting
intelligence operations in a free society. Because they believe in their
country, they do not want to see their work distort its values. They want to
adapt intelligence to American society, not vice-versa.”
And if intelligence officers are
sometimes misunderstood, our work is even less approachable. It’s the job of a
DNI or CIA director to help the public and those in government as well—in both the
executive and legislative branches—to understand both the possibilities of
intelligence and its limits.
face these questions all the time. At a speaking engagement last year, I was
discussing our Community’s ability to analyze and offer ground truth to a
decision maker, whether it’s a military commander or policymaker. I was asked,
“On a scale of one to 10, where are we now as a Community?”
said the first thing to understand is that anything above seven simply isn’t on
our scale. If it’s up at eight, nine, or ten, we’re not in the realm of
intelligence. Our profession applies to a range of subjects that are inherently
ambiguous. Even when we’re at the top of our game, we can offer policymakers
insight, we can provide context, and we can give them a clear picture of the
issue at hand, but we cannot claim absolute certainty for our judgments. In the
words of Richard Helms, “God did not give man the gift of prescience.”
relationship between intelligence and policy is just as complex. Richard Helms
mastered the delicate balance required of an intelligence officer—that mix of detachment
and relevance that best serves the national interest. Above all, he told us to “keep the game honest”—to stick to the
facts and their interpretation, be an impartial voice, and leave policymaking
he never lost sight of the fact that intelligence always has a policy effect. “No
matter what you say to a policymaker,” he said, “you can’t divorce intelligence
from policy. The only thing you can do is what I did, which was to try not to
get into the actual policymaking process by trying to influence it one way or
Intelligence analysis is at the nexus of the
world as it is and as our leaders would like it to be. Many factors legitimately
shape a policymaker’s work, views, and actions. But intelligence must objectively
define the reality in which decisions are made, like the lines on a football
we do our job well, we mediate the convergence of policy with reality. In the
process, a good intelligence officer keeps his or her objectivity sacrosanct. But
there is another virtue equally important—that of relevance.
that are exquisite in their intellectual purity and abstract reasoning can be
of little value to a president who has to make a decision under less than
pristine circumstances. That’s the tension inherent in the job. As Richard
Helms would say, the place of an effective Director is always “at the table,”
where policy is made. And there will always be others seated there as well—national
leaders who approach questions of national security from different perspectives.
16 years of Catholic education, I feel I have a good grounding in the
difference between inductive and deductive reasoning. I also know they’re both
legitimate. One can reason from facts up to principles, and one can reason down
from principles to facts.
an intelligence officer, induction is the method of necessity. We must work
from facts and rely on them to advance our arguments.
lead our nation on the basis of first principles, and their reasoning is
equally valid. When an intelligence judgment is brought into the decision-making
process, induction meets deduction head on. It had better be strong enough to
survive the impact.
two administrations, a highly controversial war, and assessments touching on
issues as sensitive as the balance of nuclear forces, Richard Helms strove to
keep the game honest. “Objectivity puts me on familiar ground as an old wire
service hand,” he told a group of newspaper editors in 1971, “but it is even
more important to an intelligence organization serving the policymaker. Without
objectivity, there is no credibility.”
does derive from objectivity, but also from experience, dedication, and merit. Richard
Helms knew our field from the ground up. Though he was both a founder and icon
of the Clandestine Service, he is for everyone in our profession the consummate
presided over America’s
Intelligence Community during a period marked by dramatic technical advances and
innovation. The dawn of the computer era transformed how information was moved,
stored, and intercepted, and space became a venue for collection. Richard Helms
and his gifted colleagues established our ascendancy in these new domains,
giving our nation the advantage of high ground that we hold to this day.
it all, he remained a firm believer in the fundamentals of his life’s calling. For
Director Helms, clandestine tradecraft—if done right—has neither the empty
glamour of many spy movies nor the cynical amorality of a le Carré novel. It’s intricate,
demanding work, blue-collar in its intensity—but ultimately its own reward for
the men and women who commit themselves to the challenge. “We are doing our
job,” he said in his remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations, “not by a
flashy triumph of espionage, but by an enormous amount of painstaking work.”
time, Richard Helms became even more convinced that human collection is
irreplaceable. On accepting the Donovan Award in 1983, he said that “gadgets
cannot divine man’s intentions...More than ever, we need agents in place to
give us advance warning of what is on the drawing boards” of our adversaries.
spent my career in the Air Force and having served as NSA director, I have a
very healthy respect for what “gadgets” can do. So did Director Helms. But in
the past six years, we’ve never had a greater need to know what’s on the
enemy’s drawing board. Doing that requires a strong National Clandestine
Service, staffed by dedicated and highly skilled men and women, working in
seamless integration with analysts, technical officers, and other specialists
from across our Community, in close collaboration with the war fighters.
cohesion we see today in America’s
Intelligence Community—not to mention among the directorates of CIA itself—has
progressed to a level that probably was unimaginable in the 1970s. We at CIA have helped prosecute the war on terrorism while
balancing two seemingly contradictory yet absolutely necessary obligations: becoming
part of an integrated Community under DNI leadership, and retaining our unique
identity—one that Richard Helms would recognize without difficulty.
A strong Central Intelligence
Agency, its authorities on human intelligence and covert action intact, its analytic
judgments free of departmental influence, remains pivotal to the success of our
Community. In a strategic sense, we remain America’s
skirmish line, moving ahead of the main body of troops, keeping our eyes on the
enemy, and being among the first to engage.
crucial we retain that operational edge, because our nation has never needed it
more. From the man we honor today and his OSS colleagues
to our men and women on the front lines in Iraq
there remains an unbroken line. Thanks to Richard Helms and a lot of talented
men and women who have answered the call over six decades, America has a
unique and irreplaceable asset in advancing its interests and defending its