Memoir Literature


Hanrahan, James. "Interview with Former CIA Executive Director Lawrence K. 'Red' White." Studies in Intelligence (Winter 1999-2000): 29-41.

Clark comment: Col. Red White is one of the good guys. What is published here are excerpts from an interview at his home in Vero Beach, Florida, on 7 January 1998. White's reminiscences, which include an Agency career reaching from 1947 to 1972, are a great read. His comments on the players of his time are brief, to the point, and priceless.

Helms, Richard, with William Hood. A Look Over My Shoulder: A Life in the Central Intelligence Agency. New York: Random House, 2003.

Clark comment: Helms' version of his life in the CIA is worth reading for the perceptive generalizations that he makes about the events of his time. There are certainly no shocking details revealed here, just the judgments of someone who stood close enough to the flame to get burned. His animosity toward Bill Colby is stated plainly and too frequently, and is one of the few sour notes in Helms' presentation. A careful reading of the work in its entirety yields insight and provides perspective on a number of high-level players (including Presidents) and their actions over a substantial part of the last half of the 20th century.

For Troy, Studies 48.1, Helms' book "is always interesting and frequently provocative.... Sometimes [the author] is humorous, but other times he comes across as vindictive and even petty in discussing former colleagues." The reviewer expresses some concerns about Helms' versions of Watergate and the Nosenko Affair and his continued defense of James Angleton. Thomas Twetten, Richard Stolz, and Hayden B. Peake, "Taking Exception: Revisiting Thomas Troy's Review of Richard Helms' Memoir," Studies in Intelligence 49, no. 1 (2005), argue that Troy's "is neither a balanced review of the memoir nor an adequate assessment of Director Helms' career."

Waller, IJI&C 17.1, finds that his former colleague's "description of the CIA's genesis as the U.S.'s first line of defense against the USSR is as fascinating as it is authentic." The work includes an "excellent account of the Cuban missile crisis." A Look Over My Shoulder is "an important and very readable contribution to the history of intelligence in the United States."

To Karabell, FA 82.4 (Jul.-Aug. 2003), Helms' posthumous "defense of the CIA's role in protecting the United States could not be more timely.... [M]uch of his memoir is a breezy potted history of the agency, [but there are] the flashes of anger, pride, and high dudgeon.... Helms was too loyal a cold warrior to attack the White House directly at the time of the [1970s] investigations, but two decades later, he uses his memoir to argue that the agency and its officers were just following orders. The one person who receives Helms' unsparing scorn is Colby."

Bamford, Washington Post, 27 Apr. 2003, finds that because Helms is "[w]riting at such a long remove in time" from the events of his life, "[t]he result is a book with too much flat history and too few new insights and revelations. Nevertheless, the opportunity to at last see much of the 20th century through Helms's probing eyes is well worth the price." Blewett, Library Journal, 1 Apr. 2003, comments that the author provides "background information about some operations but no real secrets.... Helms does let a few tart opinions slip."

For Goulden, Washington Times, 13 Apr. 2003, "Helms gives only terse rehashes of operations on his watch." Nevertheless, the book "is valuable because of its insight into some precepts essential to intelligence." Friedman, CIRA Newsletter, Summer 2003, says that readers "of this book should feel rewarded for the opportunity to have an insider's look into how the intelligence process in the US Government developed over time and how it was conducted during one lengthy and productive career."

According to Bath, NIPQ 19.3, this autobiography "comes across less as self-serving and more as an attempt to bring a sense of balance to a discussion of the proper role for the CIA in events of the past half century." Gustafson, I&NS 19.2, sees Helms' work providing "some keen insight into the political world of the DCI as well as a few tantalising glimpses of CIA covert operations." Rex Rectanus [VADM/USN (Ret.)], NIPQ 19.4/35-36, takes strong exception to Helms' presentation in Chapter 37, "Sihanoukville."

Holm, Richard L.

1. The American Agent: My Life in the CIA. London: St. Ermin's, 2003. With new intro. by author. London: St. Ermin's, 2005. [pb]

Peake, Studies 48.1, comments that a "reader will experience some frustration [with this memoir] -- tales of secret operations often lack detail and Holm's story is no exception. But to learn what it takes to be a CIA operations officer in all stages of a career, The American Agent is a great source and an enjoyable read."

For Goulden, Washington Times, 1 Aug. 2004, Holm's story is one "of incredible human bravery and endurance." However, the "book is leavened with anecdotes about the practicalities of intelligence field work." Holm's career ended when he "was forced into resignation from the Paris station through some nasty actions" by former DCI John Deutch. Goulden's conclusion: "a brave man got a raw deal from perhaps the worst director the agency ever endured."

2. The Craft We Chose: My Life in the CIA. Mountain Lake Park, MD: Mountain Lake Press, 2011.

Mersky, Proceedings 137.10 (Oct. 2011), concludes that Holm's memoir "is well worth reading, not just for the details of the CIA's inner workings but as a chronicle of how one American dealt with adversity to continue serving in the line of work he had, indeed, chosen."

For Peake, Studies 56.1 (Mar. 2012) and Intelligencer 19.2 (Summer-Fall 2012), this revised and expanded version of Holm's memoirs "is a unique contribution to the literature of intelligence, demonstrating what can be done when one has talent, is motivated, and refuses to be overcome by adversity."

Holm, Richard. "A Close Call in Africa." Studies in Intelligence (Winter 1999-2000): 17-28. CIRA Newsletter 25, no. 1 (Spring 2000): 36-41.

Clark comment: The author recounts the circumstances surrounding his frightful injuries in a plane crash in the Congo in 1965. Loeb, Washington Post, 15 May 2000, uses the publication of Ted Gup's Book of Honor (2000) to tell the story of Holm's crash, recovery, subsequent career, and frightful treatment at the end of his career by then DCI Deutch. See also, Gregory L. Vistica and Evan Thomas, "The Man Who Spied Too Long: The Inside Story of How a Cold-War Hero Became a Fall Guy for a Troubled CIA," Newsweek, 29 Apr. 1996, 26, 31.

Holm, Richard L. "No Drums, No Bugles: Recollections of a Case Officer in Laos, 1962-1964." Studies in Intelligence 47, no. 1 (2003): 1-17. Available at: https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol47no1/article01.html.

This is an excellent firsthand, tactical look at one piece of the early effort in Laos (January 1962-July 1964) by a long-serving and highly regarded CIA officer in his first action. Holm's thoughts looking backward are in line with those of many who served in that fragment of the war in Southeast Asia:

"Now, some 35 years later, I lament many of the unintended results of our efforts.... The ignorance and the arrogance of Americans arriving in Southeast Asia during that period were contributing factors. We came to help, but we had only minimal understanding of the history, culture, and politics of the people we wanted to aid.... US policies in Laos are largely responsible for the disaster that befell the Hmong..... Their way of life has been destroyed. They can never return to Laos. In the end, our policymakers failed to assume the moral responsibility that we owed to those who worked so closely with us during those tumultuous years."

Hunt, E. Howard (listed chronologically).

1. Give Us This Day. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1973.

Hunt's version of the Bay of Pigs disaster gets attention only because of the author's involvement in the Watergate escapade.

2. Undercover: Memoirs of an American Secret Agent. New York: Berkley, 1974.

This is the autobiography of a former CIA officer who gained "fame" as one of the Watergate burglers.

3. with Greg Aunapu. American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate and Beyond. New York: Wiley, 2007.

According to EAB, AFIO WIN 06-07 (12 Feb. 2007), the author, "who died recently at the age of 88, recounts his long career in the CIA that began in ... the OSS," through his time as a consultant to the Nixon White House and "his role in the Watergate scandal, for which he served 33 months in federal prison."

Noting that among his other activities Hunt was also a "prolific suspense novelist," Publishers Weekly (via Amazon.com) terms American Spy a "breezy, unrepentant memoir." Along the way, Hunt "shamelessly drops the names of the rich and powerful." This "nostalgic memoir breaks scant new ground in an already crowded field."

Peake, Studies 51.3 (2007), finds a "pattern of careless errors" that raises "[d]isturbing doubt about the historical accuracy of the book." His conclusion: "American Spy has little to recommend it." For Goulden, Washington Times, 8 Apr. 2007, and Intelligencer 15.3 (Summer-Fall 2007), this is "a true mess of a book," with "howling historical glitches about intelligence." The reviewer concludes: "I wish now that I had not read this pathetic book. Avoid it."

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