Directors of Central Intelligence

Richard McGarrah Helms (1913-2002)

DCI, 30 June 1966 - 2 February 1973

Included here:

1. Personal comment on Helms

2. Material on Helms

3. Helms' Writings/Speeches


1. Personal comment on Helms

My first encounter with Dick Helms dates back to the mid-1960s when I heard the then-DDP berate members of a class graduating from the 16-week-long Operations Course because too few of them had signed up for the follow-on Paramilitary Course. It was not a pretty sight, and colored my feelings toward Helms for some years. In retrospect, however, this was an interesting vignette, especially in light of later controversy surrounding Helms' perceived lukewarm attitude toward covert paramilitary operations.

It is also interesting because I, in later years long after he left the Agency, came to respect Dick Helms as he persevered through difficult times to become one of the "grand old men" of American intelligence. There is a well-established cottage industry which continues to try to link Helms to the JFK assassination. To them, I can only say that they are wrong; this man has too deep a love of his country and respect for our system to have personally or professionally been part of such a conspiracy.

Dick Helms died on 22 October 2002 at the age of 89.

From Bart Barnes, "Richard Helms Dies; Founding CIA Member Led Agency Six Years," Washington Post, 24 Oct. 2002, B7: "Richard M. Helms, 89, the quintessential intelligence and espionage officer who joined the Central Intelligence Agency at its founding in 1947 and rose through the ranks to lead it for more than six years, died in his sleep Oct. 22 at his home in Washington.... Mr. Helms was the first career intelligence professional to serve as the nation's top spymaster.... He left the agency in 1973, when President Richard M. Nixon asked for his resignation -- the result, Mr. Helms believed, of his refusing to permit the CIA to be used in the coverup of the Watergate break-in."

2. Material on Helms

See "Georgetown University and Two CIA Records and History Offices Honor Former DCI Richard Helms: Donation of Papers and Photographs by Mrs. Cynthia Helms and Family Inspired Symposium," Intelligencer 16, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 59-60; Michael V. Hayden [GEN/USAF], "The Influence of Richard Helms on the American Intelligence Profession," Intelligencer 16, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 61-63; and Albert D. Wheelon, "Richard Helms: Recollections of a Career and Friendship," Intelligencer 16, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 65-66.

Frost, David. "An Interview with Richard Helms." Studies in Intelligence (Fall 1981): 1-29. Studies in Intelligence: 45th Anniversary Special Edition (Fall 2000): 107-136.

"Adapted from an interview with Mr. Helms taped by David Frost in Washington, 22-23 May 1978."

Hathaway, Robert M., and Russell Jack Smith. Richard Helms as Director of Central Intelligence, 1966-1973. Washington DC: History Staff, Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, 1993. Available at: http://www.foia/cia.gov.

This work, completed under the auspices of the CIA History Staff, was declassified (with redactions) in 2006. The "Editor's Preface" by J. Kenneth McDonald states that it is "organized as a topical study and not as a comprehensive narrative history of Richard Helms's six and a half years as DCI." (vii) Robarge, Studies 53.4 (Dec. 2009), notes that Hathaway's "highly unfavorable chapter on Angleton [was] based not on in-depth archival research but mainly on critical internal surveys ... and on interviews with CIA retirees unfavorably disposed to him."

Helms, Cynthia, with Chris Black. An Intriguing Life: A Memoir of War, Washington, and Marriage to an American Spymaster. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013.

Peake, Studies 57.2 (Jun. 2013), and Intelligencer 20.1 (Spring-Summer 2013), finds that Richard Helm's wife "has given us and her grandchildren a fascinating look into the life of a very private man and the wife he adored."

Johnson, Loch K. "Spymaster Richard Helms: An Interview with the Former US Director of Central Intelligence." Intelligence and National Security18, no.3 (Autumn 2003): 24-44.

This material comes from an hour-long interview with Helms on 12 December 1990.

Powers, Thomas. The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA. New York: Knopf, 1979. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1980. New York: Pocket Books, 1981. [pb]

Clark comment: This is one of the best books written about American intelligence by a non-intelligence-trained individual. It reads easily and amuses in the author's clear desire to denigrate his subject and his frustration in his failure to be able to do so. In one of the limited cases where we agree on something, NameBase notes that "[w]hen it first appeared in 1979, this book was widely regarded as one of the best ever written about the CIA."

Pforzheimer says The Man Who Kept the Secrets is simultaneously one of the most comprehensive books on the CIA and "seriously flawed with errors of fact and concept." A serious shortcoming is Powers' "failure to weave the world situation into his CIA tapestry.... The author does not understand Helms and is sometimes very unfair to him. This is a book ... which should be approached ... with a full recognition of its many errors, although it should be read by the professional."

Constantinides advises a careful reading of Powers' notes, which "often contain more revealing, comprehensive, and perceptive comments or explanations than the main text." Whatever Powers may have missed or misinterpreted -- and the list is long -- this book "can be classified as outstanding, especially for an intelligence outsider."

Also, see Kenneth L. Adelman, "A Clandestine Clan," International Security 5 (Summer 1980): 152-171. This is a review essay on The Man Who and Roosevelt's Countercoup. Adelman was Director of ACDA, 1984-1987.

An adaptation of Powers' work was published as: Thomas Powers, "Inside the Department of Dirty Tricks," Atlantic Monthly 244, no. 2 (Aug. 1979): 33-64. [http://www.theatlantic.com]

Robarge, David S. "Richard Helms: The Intelligence Professional Personified." Studies in Intelligence 46, no. 4 (2002): 35-43.

From 1997 to 2002, the author worked as a research assistant for Helms while the Ambassador was working on his memoirs, A Look Over My Shoulder (2003). Here, Robarge provides a mini-biography and an appreciation of the man.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. A Life in Intelligence: The Richard Helms Collection, at: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/historical-collection-publications/richard-helms-collection/index.html.

"This collection of material by and about Richard Helms as Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and Ambassador to Iran" is comprised of "documents, historical works, essays, interviews, photographs, and video." It offers "an unprecedented wide-ranging look at the man and his career" ... [f]rom mid-1966, when he became DCI, to late 1976, when he left Iran."

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Center for the Study of Intelligence. Ed. Nicholas Dujmovic. "Oral History: Reflections of DCI[s] Colby and Helms on the CIA’s 'Time of Troubles.'" Studies in Intelligence 51, no. 3 (2007): 11-28. [https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol51no3/index.html]

"Colby and Helms were interviewed on 15 March and 2 February 1988, respectively, as part of an effort by the Center for the Study of Intelligence to compile the perspectives of former Agency leaders on what has often been termed the CIA’s 'Time of Troubles' in the 1970s. The perspectives of these two officials, different in several respects, illustrate the dilemmas a secret intelligence agency faces in serving a democracy."

3. Helms' Writings/Speeches

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