Directors of Central Intelligence

William Joseph Casey (1913-1987)

DCI, 28 Jan. 1981-29 Jan. 1987

Included here:

1. Personal comment on Casey

2. Material on Casey as DCI (items dealing with Casey's World War II work with OSS are included in the "WWII/OSS/Germany" file)

3. Casey's Writings/Speeches


1. Personal comment on Casey

It is probably going to be regarded as a personal failing of the first magnitude, but I must admit that I liked Bill Casey. If you ever walked into his office and had him demand of you, "Young man, have you read (mumble, mumble, mumble)," you learned quickly to reply, "No, sir." If you thought to impress The Man by responding positively, you better had really read and understood the book; because Casey had read it and was ready to ask in-depth questions. "No" was also a good answer, because Casey as likely as not would then grab the copy he just finished and hand it to you, providing a mini-lecture on why your intellectual development was not yet complete.

2. Material on Casey

Larry Casey, "William Casey's Papers Now at Hoover Institution," Intelligencer 10, no. 2 (Aug. 1999), 1, informs that William J. Casey's "personal collection of papers and other private documents" have been presented to the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford University.

Atkeson, Edward B. [MAJGEN/USA (Ret.)] "The William Casey I Knew." Intelligencer 16, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 37-40.

The former NIO for General Purpose Forces provides a fond remembrance of Casey, together with some on-the-mark Casey stories.

Dujmovic, Nicholas. "Reagan, Intelligence, Casey, and the CIA: A Reappraisal." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 26, no. 1: 1-30.

And a reappraisal it is, with a particular emphasis on Reagan's interaction with intelligence matters: "According to the old narrative, Reagan simply could not have been the architect of anything positive that happened while he was President. But that perspective has changed forever and is marked by the continually improving regard historians have for Reagan.. The preponderance of direct and indirect evidence ... conclusively demonstrates that he was an engaged and appreciative 'First Customer' of intelligence who carefully read and used what he learned from intelligence products....

"Contrary to the conventional wisdom at the CIA, the Agency's fortunes and influence during the Reagan administration do not appear to have rested entirely or even mostly on a close personal relationship between the DCI and the President. Far more likely is that the CIA was influential because it served a President who understood intelligence and its importance, who appreciated how it would help him in policy decisions, and who appreciated the product the CIA provided."

Honig, Or Arthur. "The Impact of CIA's Organizational Culture on Its Estimates Under William Casey." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 24, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 44-64.

"[T]he intelligence failures during Casey's tenure were rooted in the Agency's flawed intelligence processes and cannot be solely attributed to his belief systems or management style."

McCullough, James. "Personal Reflections on Bill Casey's Last Month at CIA: Coping with Iran-Contra." Studies in Intelligence 39, no. 5 (1996): 75-91.

The author was Director of the DCI Executive Staff during this time period. As he notes, what he has to say "probably will disappoint conspiracy theorists" but it does "have the ring of truth to those who have actually experienced the rough-and-tumble of Washington politics." Anyone interested in the CIA's role in the aftermath of the Iran-Contra affair should read this article. If readers do not believe McCullough's conclusion, so be it: "Bill Casey ... does not deserve to have his memory stained by false charges of involvement in a conspiracy to conceal the facts of the Iran affair. It just did not happen that way."

David Gries, who was Director of the Office of Congressional Affairs at the time of the events of November-December 1986, supplies a brief "commentary" on McCullough's article (pp. 93-94). Gries calls the deterioration of Casey a "tragedy" in which "a larger-than-life man [was] destroyed by a small tumor, just at the time when he needed all his powers to defend himself from questionable charges." Gries blames "vertical compartmentation" within the CIA for the failings that "led much of the public to an inaccurate, but understandable, conclusion[: that] CIA was deeply involved in the affair, and Bill Casey was its mastermind."

Persico, Joseph E. Casey: From the OSS to the CIA. New York: Viking, 1990. New York: Penguin, 1991. [pb]

Clark comment: A more apt title for this massive work might have been "Casey and the CIA, with a Little Background Thrown In for Good Measure." In a tome with over 600 pages (including an Appendix and Index), the last six years of Casey's long life consumes 370 pages. It is strange that Persico, who earlier chronicled what Casey himself called "the greatest experience of my life" (p. 86), gives only cursory attention (33 pages) to Casey's OSS service. See Piercing the Reich (1979).

To Bates, NIPQ 8.4, this biography does "not hide any of the warts," and leaves the reader with a "much better appreciation for the man and what drove him." Surveillant 2.1 notes that Persico had "complete access to ... Casey's papers and cooperation of his widow." This is an "even-handed, balanced biography ... [which] debunks many of the Woodward [Veil] claims."

Strong, I&NS 8.2, calls the book a "detailed and balanced portrait," and Powers, NYRB (13 May 1993) and Intelligence Wars (2004), 295-320, sees it as a "fine but unfootnoted biography." For the Economist, 5 Jan. 1991, reviewer, this work is "a telling biography based on a full understanding both of the man and the processes through which he was trying to work."

For Pforzheimer, from http://www.cloakanddagger.com/dagger/ciabib.txt, this book was "[p]robably written too soon after the events to evaluate Casey's role fully, particularly in Iran-Contra." Nevertheless, its "well-written, chatty style, and considerable access to Casey family papers and support, render an important initial contribution, favorable to Casey as DCI." Wark, I&NS 7.2, also finds that the book came too close in time to its events for indepth analysis. Persico too often shows "authorial indecision and disengagement, and ultimately ... narrative and analytical superficiality."

Wildstrom, Business Week, 22 Oct. 1990, concludes that "though well written," Casey "is sloppily researched.... Persico's appraisal of Casey the spymaster would be more compelling had the author been more careful with his facts. Some of his errors are trivial.... But Persico also slips into more serious mistakes that badly undermine his credibility."

Persico, Joseph E.

1. "Casey's German Gamble." MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History 3, no. 1 (Autumn 1990): 70-77.

For anyone who does not want to read Persico's Piercing the Reich, this is an excellent short version of the penetration of Germany by American spies. While the effect of these activities on the broader war effort may be debated, their overall success -- at least, on the tactical level -- cannot.

2. Piercing the Reich: The Penetration of Nazi Germany by American Secret Agents during World War II. New York: Viking, 1979. London: Michael Joseph, 1979. New York: Ballantine, 1979. [pb] New York: Barnes & Noble, 1997.

Commenting on the 1997 reprint, Kruh, Cryptologia 23.1, finds that the author "recounts in thrilling fashion the perilous missions to penetrate Germany's formidable security.... [T]he main story is about one of the greatest counterintelligence coups of all time."

Pforzheimer notes that most OSS penetration operations "were tactical in nature, supplying important order of battle and targeting information from behind the German lines." This book "is the first real effort at considering these operations ... in their entirety. As such it deserves good marks." The officer directing these operations was Bill Casey whose first-hand account was published as The Secret War Against Hitler (1988).

For Constantinides, the book is "an interesting and well-researched study." However, he thinks that Persico "may have exaggerated the success" of these operations. "The lack of identification of sources ... is a weakness ... that could easily have been avoided."

Powers, Thomas. "Last of the Cowboys." New York Review of Books, 19 Nov. 1987. Chapter 19 in Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to Al-Qaeda, 283-294. Rev. & exp. ed. New York: New York Review of Books, 2004.

This is Powers' take on Woodward's Veil (1987) and on Bill Casey in general.

Woodward, Bob. Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987. New York: Pocket Books, 1988. [pb] UB351U5W66

Simmons, IJI&C 2.2, argues that Woodward's "errors of fact ... are few and far between and, more often than not, involve narrative embellishments of a situation rather than mistakes in substance.... Probably the greatest value ... are his brilliant descriptions of the bureaucratic conflict between the legislative and executive branches in the arena of U.S. intelligence activities.... He captures the flavor of this struggle."

For Hartung, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Jul. 1988, the "real subject" of this book "is Casey and his efforts to build U.S. intelligence capabilities across the board." Woodward has produced a "readable and at times engaging account of U.S. intelligence activities during the 1980s." Blum, NameBase, notes that the book "is famous for its corny ending.... Other portions ... contain numerous nuggets of interest to historians, but it treats its stated subject entirely unsystematically -- various bits and pieces about each 'war' are scattered here and there."

To Powers, NYRB (19 Nov. 1987) and Intelligence Wars (2004), 283-294, the author has a typical "set piece -- detailed, suggestive, and fragmentary." The central account here is Casey's covert activities, and Woodward "for the most part only adds new details to stories that have already had their day in the press. His story requires close reading. It suggests more than it claims."

3. Casey's Writings/Speeches

Return to CIA 1980s Table of Contents

Return to DCIs Table of Contents

Return to CIA Biographies