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Richard Helms and the C.I.A. choices amongst conflicting duties.

Richard McGarrack Helms, who died on 22 October 2002, was perhaps the most controversial, and certainly one of the most important directors of the Central Intelligence Agency. He was the director of the C.I.A. from 1966 to 1973, during one of the most critical parts of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union was most aggressive in its attempts to undermine non-communist countries and to instigate and support revolutionary activity in many parts of the world. Helms was above all notable for always placing the security of the United States above his own welfare and above the interests of his political masters.

Born in 1913, and graduated from Williams College, Massachusetts, in 1935, when the United States entered the Second World War Helms joined the U.S. Navy, and he spent some years with the Office of Strategic Services organizing intelligence operations against Germany. After Germany surrendered he assisted in the identification of Nazi war criminals to facilitate their prosecution.

The Central Intelligence Agency was created in July 1947, and Helms (who was then employed by the Office of Special Operations) became deputy director of its Directorate for Plans. The C.I.A. had conducted an extensive campaign to prevent the Italian Communist Party from winning elections there, and was charged with conducting anti-communist activities in other countries. He was soon made head of the Directorate, replacing Richard Bissell after the unfortunate defeat of the landing in the Bay of Pigs in 1961 that was intended to remove Fidel Castro.

President John Kennedy and his brother Robert, the Attorney-General, were strongly anti-communist and perceived clearly the threat that a communist Cuba posed to the United States by acting as a proxy to the Soviets and to other Central and South American countries. The C.I.A. properly encouraged attempts to have Castro assassinated, but through a succession of mis-chances these attempts unfortunately failed.

After the death of President Kennedy Helms became deputy head of the C.I.A., under Admiral William Raborn. Raborn allowed Helms to exercise considerable influence and control, and Helms took particular interest in the unfolding events in Vietnam. He is credited with sound decisions, such as the organizing of indigenous minorities to harass Northern Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces and the organizing of counter-terrorist groups.

The Vietnam War placed the C.I.A. in an impossible position. The North Vietnamese communists saw political pressure as the means to ultimate success. Whilst the United States maintained substantial forces in Vietnam the communists suffered constant defeats, leading in 1968 to their greatest defeat in the Tet offensive. During this offensive the element of surprise enabled them to make immediate gains, but they were soon driven out of all the positions that they had occupied and suffered crippling losses.

In the American press, however, the almost exclusively anti-war journalists gave an opposite impression, and their misleading accounts of the Tet offensive proved decisive in the communists' long struggle to break the United States' will through a combination of propaganda and tenacity in the field.

These were very difficult times for the C.I.A., and Helms was the subject of attack by American left-liberal opinion. Probably those who ought to have been regarded instead as responsible for the eventual fiasco and the cynical abandonment by the United States of the South Vietnamese were the successive American military commanders. The U.S. military believed that they could succeed through bombings and the application of overwhelming force whenever North Vietnamese forces emerged. What was not done was to build up the South Vietnamese army effectively, so that with its greater understanding of local conditions and greater local intelligence it could provide more complete and permanent restrictions on communist activity.

An equally unpopular cause was preventing Chile from becoming a communist dictatorship. Salvador Allende and his Marxist-Communist coalition party Unidad Popular obtained (with assistance and financial support from Cuban and Soviet resources) 36 per cent of the national vote in Chile's 1970 elections.

Allende's government set in motion plans to turn Chile into a communist regime modelled upon Cuba: (1)
 "But Salvador Allende was no fuzzy
 `social reform' Marxist. His Unidad
 Popular and his government were
 filled with hardcore Communist
 revolutionaries like Luis Fernandez
 Ona, Orlando Letelier, Luis Corvalan,
 Daniel Vergara, Pedro Vuskovic,
 Jacques Conchol, Carlos Altamirano,
 Pablo Neruda, Hernan del Canto,
 Volodia Teitelboim, Eduardo
 Paredes, Carlos Toro, Valenti Rossi,
 Clodimiro Almeyda Medina, and
 Alfredo Joignant (to name but a few).

 Senor Ona is particularly noteworthy,
 inasmuch as he not only was the
 second in command of Cuba's military
 intelligence, `G-2', but was married
 to the President's daughter,
 Beatriz Allende. Ona had been
 Castro's intelligence liaison to Che
 Guevara in Bolivia. It was Comrade
 Ona who organized Allende's personal
 Praetorian Guard, known as
 G.A.E, Grupo de Amigos del Presidente
 (Group of Friends of the President).
 Ona placed this group of armed
 thugs under the control of Max Joel
 Marambio, who was trained in Cuba.

 Senator Luis Corvalan was Secretary-General
 of Chile's Communist
 Party and one of Allende's closes allies.
 Like Allende, he was no social
 reformer. As a disciplined, Moscow-controlled
 Red he counselled Allende
 against the rash actions advocated by
 some of the hothead revolutionaries
 with itchy trigger fingers. 'We need
 time to prepare ourselves for the exigencies
 of a civil war', he warned.

 One of the preparations involved
 obtaining funding from foreign Communist
 Parties. After the coup, a
 'Dear Comrade' letter of 21 March
 1973 from Communist Party official
 Antonio Benedicto in Spain to Senator
 Corvalan was found. Bendedicto
 was reporting on the progress of his
 negotiations for Allende for loans
 from the Communist Parties of
 France and Spain. He informed
 Corvalan that the best prospects for
 major loans might be through
 Interagra, the cash-rich export organization
 of the French Union of Agricultural
 Co-operatives, 'chaired by
 Comrade Jean Doumeng'. Benedicto
 noted that 'Integra is known as "The
 Party Cashbox" because it is controlled
 by the French Communist Party'.
 Comrade Benedicto opined to
 Corvalan that 'it would be possible
 to obtain loans in the course of this
 year for about $150 million, in France
 and Spain alone'.

 Cuban-trained Eduardo Paredes
 was the first to head the Investigations
 Department, Chile's analogue
 to the F.B.I., under Allende. Photos
 show Paredes instructing Allende in
 guerrilla warfare and the firing of automatic
 weapons. On 11 April 1972,
 Paredes returned to Chile from one
 of his frequent trips to Cuba. He
 brought with him 13 large crates that
 he refused to open for Chilean Customs
 officials. He insisted they contained
 only art objects, cigars, and
 mango-flavoured ice-cream--all gifts
 from the Cuban people. After
 Allende was deposed, a huge arsenal
 of weapons was discovered in
 Allende's residence--along with a bill
 of lading for the Cuban crates. The
 ice-cream and cigars turned out to be
 rifles and machine guns."

Within a year of Allende's election Soviet / Cuban directed cadres acquired de facto control over large areas. Planned assassinations were carried out on an increasing scale, and on 23 August 1973 the Chamber of Deputies of the Chilean Parliament resolved:
 "It is a fact that the present government
 of the Republic [the Allende administration],
 from its inception has
 been bent on acquiring total power,
 with the evident purpose of submitting
 all individuals to the strictest
 economic and political control by the
 State, thus achieving the establishment
 of a totalitarian system, absolutely
 contrary to the representative
 democratic system prescribed by the

Further, the purpose of Castro and Allende, as subsequently corroborated from documents seized after he was ousted, was not merely to Cubanise Chile, but to use Chile as a steppingstone for the Cubanisation of other South or Central American countries.

In these circumstances the C.I.A. under Helms had taken the obvious course of supporting the opposition to Allende. Indeed, to do otherwise would have been irresponsible. The only criticism that may, in retrospect, be made in this regard is that greater resources should have been devoted by the United States to supporting Helms and the C.I.A. in the objective of forestalling an Allende-led Marxist regime.

Fortunately Augusto Pinochet thwarted Allende's proposed coup, which was to have taken place several days later, when on 11 September 1973 Pinochet's forces surrounded the Ministry of Defence and Allende committed suicide with a machine gun that had been given to him as a present by Fidel Castro. This happy result, and the forestalling of another repressive communist regime, has caused a persistent, deep-rooted grievance amongst left-liberals, and has led to persistent attempts to demonise and persecute Pinochet.

Helms was justifiably critical of Senate committees, the members of which were habitually more concerned with favourable publicity to themselves or political advantage to their parties than with the national interest. When Senator Stuart Symington and other senators questioned him about the role of the C.I.A. in relation to Chile Helms deliberately chose to thwart them. He denied that the C.I.A. had tried to overthrow Allende's government or that it had assisted financially his opponents. He defended his refusal to assist Senate committees by maintaining that his duty was to protect intelligence secrets and that he was not obliged to provide intelligence information to Senators who held no power of C.I.A. oversight. By reason of his stand he was prosecuted for perjury. He was fined $2,000 and received a suspended two-year prison sentence. He subsequently stated that he regarded his conviction as a "badge of honour", and his sense of duty was later recognized by President Ronald Reagan, who presented him with the National Security Medal for "exceptionally meritorious service".

The quandary that was faced by Helms is one that may arise on many occasions in democratic countries. As a matter of national security it is sometimes necessary that covert operations should take place, that friendly states should be supported and hostile governments should be destabilized. Those who take part in those operations should, in the absence of very special circumstances, be supported and not abandoned to those who seek political or personal gains. This was the view taken by Helms: first, that preventing further Cuban-type regimes in Central and South America was an important policy objective; and secondly, that political opportunists on the left of the Democrat Party should not succeed in victimizing those who had acted in the United States' interests.

In taking this position of principle Helms showed very considerable courage. He acted in accordance with his conscience, despite the prospect of being prosecuted. And after his retirement he continued to assist C.I.A. officers who were subject to political criticism, such as in regard to the Iran-Contra affair.

These matters are of interest in Australia also. Unfortunately in Australia during the most dangerous period of the Cold War there were important and influential members of the Labor Party, such as Eddie Ward and James Cairns and many others, who were prepared to disregard their moderate colleagues in order to assist communist causes in Australia and abroad. A lack of patriotism has been evident even recently when a Labor-Party-Democrat controlled Senate committee was clearly intent on finding and exaggerating any evidence that might show that the Australian government or members of the Defence Force had acted improperly in attempting to exclude illegal immigrants. There is a significant element of Australian society, represented by such groups as the Australian Democrats and vociferous parts of the Australian Labor Party, whose primary loyalty is to overseas objects rather than to their own country. One may comment generally that in a democracy treason is always just below the surface.

(1.) "Patriot Enchained", 1999, Codex, Issue 9, page 1 at page 4.

DR. I.C.F. SPRY, Q.C. is Editor of National Observer, a Queen's Counsel and a former member of the Melbourne University and Monash University Law Faculties.
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Title Annotation:United States Central Intelligence Agency
Author:Spry, I.C.F.
Publication:National Observer - Australia and World Affairs
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2003
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