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Richard Helms was the modern spy prototype. He held key positions in that secret inaccessible world:in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during the WW2 and in the CIA throughout the 30 years since its foundation. He was a secret OSS agent, head of a spy network, planner and organizer of secret actions, and for more than six years he was the general director of the CIA.

No other American was involved as much as Richard Helms was in the actions of the CIA. His story is actually the story of the CIA. The author of the present book wrote the first complete history of the CIA while describing Helms’ extraordinaire career. The US Library of Congress consists of more than 200 books about the CIA, most of them written by ex-employees, however, this book has a privileged position among the others.

The reason why it is so special is because it is an uncensored book and also, its author is criticized for describing Helms in very harsh terms. Thomas Powers was not coerced into presenting the book for the approval of the CIA bosses like the authors who worked there had to. The result of this situation is that the CIA image present in this book is more objective, complete and revealing than never before. That is, at least, how the Alfred Knopf Publishing House perceives the book it dared release – Richard Helms and the CIA – The Man Who Kept the Secrets by Thomas Powers. The author is a United Press International (UPI) journalist who received the Pulitzer Prize for his previous book Diana:The Making of a Terrorist.

 

The Watergate Scandal and Richard Helms’s dismissal

Richard Helms has a central and very privileged position among the other CIA directors. The first reason is that he rose through the ranks to the highest position in the CIA and unlike others, he was promoted according to his own merits. The US President selected the other CIA directors from outside the Agency based on merits known only to him. Thus, the US President Gerald Ford offers the best example in this case. When he became president, Ford chose George Herbert Bush (the father of the last Republican President) to be the director of the CIA, although he had no experience with foreign espionage.

What set Helms apart from his peers was that he managed to keep the CIA out of presidential affairs such as the Watergate scandal. President Richard Nixon wanted the CIA to grant him millions of dollars in cash, in order to buy the silence of the White House plumbers who were arrested by the FBI after they broke into the Watergate building. Nixon’s closest associates such as John Dean or Haldeman were the ones entrusted with the mission of receiving the money from the CIA.  Yet, Helms surprised everybody by refusing to involve the CIA in covering up Nixon and his men’s illegalities. Helms correctly assumed that it was a domestic investigation which involved the FBI and not the Agency. However, his temerarious act was repaid with his dismissal from the top position at the CIA and was sent by Nixon to Iran as head of the American diplomatic mission in Tehran.

 

Heads of State assassinated by the orders of the US Presidents

Helms’ third reason for his claim to fame was his behaviour after his dismissal from the CIA and Nixon’s resignation from the White House. Senator Frank Church led a commission which asked Helms to reveal the illegalities committed by the Agency under his leadership. The commission was interested especially in the state of Chile where the president democratically elected, Salvador Allende, was ousted by Nixon’s order.

Helms devised a strategy of preserving the state secrets during his harsh disputes with the American Senators. This strategy had two parts:firstly, he wanted to protect the CIA employees who executed the orders of the Foreign Affairs Minister Henry Kissinger. The alternative to this would have been imprisonment. Secondly, the nature of his job requested from him confidentiality about the American Government’s foreign actions. In this case, the other option would have been discrediting the US.

In short, Helms decided to lie to the Senate’s CIA Investigation Committee. He was caught lying under oath and received the maximum legal fine plus two years imprisonment. Helms’s successor acted in the exact opposite way:to Kissinger’s and Ford’s desperation, William Colby providetrd the Senators with the documents they requested from the secret CIA archives. Thus, it was revealed to the US and the whole world that certain heads of state and government such as Patrice Lumumba, Rafael Trujillo, Ngo Dinh Diem or Salvador Allende were assassinated by the American Presidents’ orders. 

 

Assassinations, coups d’etat, medical experiments…

It was also revealed that Henry Kissinger organized the civil war in Angola and directly led the American actions in Chile against the Allende Government. The final conclusion of the Senate’s Investigation Committee was very precise and it consisted of the illegalities the CIA committed. Also, it demonstrated that the American Presidents violated basic principles of the US Constitution by using a secret instrument of power (CIA) under the pretext of an international emergency (the fight against Communism).

Here are some of the illegalities revealed by the Committee of the Senate:1. The American citizens’ private correspondence was violated;2. The assassination of certain presidents such as Ngo Dinh Diem (Vietnam), Rafael Trujillo (Dominian Republic), Patrice Lumumba (Congo), Salvador Allende (Chile) and numerous attempts to assassinate the Cuban President Fidel Castro;3. Medical experiments on citizens who were previously unaware of it;4. The financing and training foreign local police in order to torture the opposition. 5. Initial support and later abandonment of rebels from countries such as Hungary (1956). 6. Injecting corrupt sums of money in the political system of other countries. 7. Instigation of civil wars with purposes foreign to those countries’ governments 8. Direct intervention at the request of privately owned American companies, in order to overthrow democratic governments (United Fruit Company asked the American Administration to  overthrow the Arbenz government in Guatemala).

 

How the Americans found out about the Cuban missiles

The book reveals an unknown aspect of the Cuban Missile Crisis:the Soviet agent Oleg Penkovsky greatly contributed to the solving of the dispute. The British recruited Penkovsky and he became the highest in rank and the most prolific Soviet defector. London was very alarmed about the imminence of a nuclear war and it asked the CIA to take part in Penkovsky’s interrogation. He provided the Anglo-Americans with more than 10.000 Soviet military documents including the technical details of the latest Soviet missiles. These documents allowed the American experts to follow through the Soviet missiles installation process in Cuba hour by hour. Also, they were able to accurately calculate the American targets which entered the range of the missiles.

To the present day, the world does not know what could have happened in 1962. Had the US and the USSR waged a nuclear war, the Earth would have become a desert, because of Khrushchev’s secretly installed Soviet missiles in Cuba. The KGB caught Penkovsky red-handed and by Khrushchev’s orders, he was arrested, judged and burned alive. Thus should be understood the US Secretary of State’s warning that “it is not reasonable for the Europeans to wait for an American President to risk the existence of the city of Chicago in order to save Hamburg.”

The author of the book explained in detail that President Eisenhower issued Fidel Castro’s assassination order and John F Kennedy re-confirmed it after he was elected as the president of the US (p. 342). However, Santos Trafficante, the man on CIA’s payroll who was entrusted with this mission of assassinating Fidel Castro had systematically informed him about the anti-Cuban actions of the Americans. The author’s conclusion is very concise:“It is a true fact that the CIA tried to assassinate Castro, regardless of the agents’ loyalties and motives” (p. 342). Richard Helms was the CIA officer who supervised each and every phase and the technical details of the actions (p. 150). Years later, when Richard Helms became the general director of the CIA informed President Lyndon Johnson that the Kennedy administration attempted to assassinate Castro.

 

The Soviets planned more “Hiroshimas” in Asia

The author wrote that before Lyndon Johnson left the White House he confessed to the journalist Howard K. Smith that “What I have to tell you will definitely shock you:Kennedy tried to suppress Castro, however, Castro got to Kennedy first. ”(p. 157)

I decided to leave for the end of the article the most surprising disclosure of Thomas Powers’ third book. In March 1969, the Americans photographed from the outer space the clashes between the Soviet and Chinese troops which took place on the Ussuri River (the natural border between the two states). The Soviets concentrated near the Chinese border great military forces including tactical nuclear weapons.

Alarmed by the events, Henry Kissinger ordered the CIA to elaborate an in-depth study on the conflict between the USSR and China. The study revealed the technical details of a planned Soviet nuclear attack on the Chinese research facilities and the atomic weapons development centers (p. 210). In order to support his unbelievable and never-heard-before assertions, the author cites in his references the declarations of the White House Secretary General H.R. Haldeman. He clarified this state secret in his memoirs book The Ends of Power. There he gave details about the Soviet attempts to elicit from President Nixon a political agreement before the USSR nuclear attack on China (p. 354). 

The world found out very late that in the summer of 1969 the Soviets were planning more “Hiroshimas” in Asia! The book, however, does not clarify who managed to make the USSR refrain from bombarding China:Nixon, Mao or both? We should not forget that Nixon and Kissinger made history by playing on China’s side and against the USSR in the world’s great strategic game.  Finally, I would like to mention an interesting fact:in order not to lose his pension for the thirty decades he spent working in the OSS and CIA, Richard Helms was sentenced to two years in jail with the possibility of suspension, because he lied under oath at the hearings of the Congress. He died eleven years ago at the age of 89 on October 22nd, 2002.

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