Richard Helms: Wikis


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Richard Helms

In office
June 30, 1966 – February 2, 1973
President Lyndon B. Johnson
Richard Nixon
Preceded by William Raborn
Succeeded by James R. Schlesinger

Born March 30, 1913(1913-03-30)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died October 22, 2002 (aged 89)

Richard McGarrah Helms (March 30, 1913–October 22, 2002) was the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) from 1966 to 1973. He was the only director to have been convicted of lying to the United States Congress over Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) undercover activities. In 1977, he was sentenced to the maximum fine and received a suspended two-year prison sentence. Despite this, Helms remained a revered figure in the intelligence profession.[citation needed] CIA historian Keith Melton describes Helms as a professional who was always impeccably dressed and had a "low tolerance for fools."


Life and career

Helms was born in Philadelphia in 1913. In 1935, after he graduated from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, he got a job at the United Press in London. The depression in London, however forced Helms to find work in Germany, where he covered the Berlin Olympic Games; he had spent two of his high school years at the prestigious Institut Le Rosey in Switzerland where he learned to speak French and later Realgymnasium in Freiburg, where he became fluent in German. He joined the advertising department of the Indianapolis Times; within two years he was national advertising manager.

Career in intelligence

A 23-year-old Helms interviewed Adolf Hitler for UPI during the 1936 Olympics.

During World War II Helms served in the United States Navy. In 1943, he was posted to Secret Intelligence Branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) because of his ability to speak German. In the aftermath of the war, he was transferred to the newly formed Office of Special Operations (OSO), where at the age of 33 he was put in charge of intelligence and counter-intelligence operations in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.

The OSO became a division of the CIA when that organization was created by the National Security Act of 1947. In 1962 Helms became Director of Plans after the CIA's disastrous role in the attempted invasion of Cuba. After falling out with the Kennedys[citation needed], he was sent off to Vietnam where he oversaw the coup to overthrow President Ngo Dinh Diem. Following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Helms was made Deputy Director of the CIA under Admiral William Raborn. A year later, in 1966, he was appointed Director.

Richard Helms, in the White House Cabinet Room, March 27, 1968.

The ease of Helms's role under President Lyndon Johnson changed with the arrival of President Richard Nixon and Nixon's national security advisor Henry Kissinger. After the debacle of Watergate, from which Helms succeeded in distancing the CIA as far as possible, the Agency came under much tighter Congressional control. In January 1973, Nixon considered Helms to be better suited as the US Ambassador to Iran, due to his good relations with the ruling Shah, in charge of the area in terms of observing the oil industry and issues relating to government stability[1]. Within weeks of being approached about this position, Helms left the office as Director of the CIA and served from 1973 to 1976 as US ambassador to Iran in Tehran.

Helms's ultimate undoing was the CIA's role, at Nixon's behest, in the subversion of Chile's socialist government (Project FUBELT), and the overthrow of that country's democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, on September 11, 1973. According to Helms, Nixon had ordered the CIA to support a military coup to prevent Allende from becoming president in 1970. However, following the assassination of Army Commander-in-Chief General René Schneider by elements of the military, public support swung behind Allende, and he took office in October 1970. Subsequently, the CIA funneled millions of dollars to opposition groups and striking truck drivers in a continuing effort to destabilize the Allende government.

During his ambassadorial confirmation hearings before the Senate, Helms was questioned concerning the CIA's role in the Chilean affair. Because the operations were still secret and the hearings were public events, Helms denied that the CIA had ever aided Allende's opposition. However, later information uncovered by the Church Committee hearings showed that Helms's statements were false, and he was prosecuted and convicted in 1977. He received a two-year suspended sentence and a $2,000 fine. He wore the conviction as a badge of honor, and his fine was paid by friends from the CIA.

In 1972, Helms ordered the destruction of most records from the huge MKULTRA project, over 150 CIA-funded research projects designed to explore any possibilities of mind control.[citation needed] The project became public knowledge two years later, after a New York Times report.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan awarded Helms the National Security Medal. After he died of bone cancer in 2002, Richard Helms was interred in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

See also

Further reading

  • Helms, Richard, with William Hood. A Look over My Shoulder: A Life in the Central Intelligence Agency. New York: Random House, 2003.
  • Powers, Thomas. The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979.
  • Richard Helms as Director of the CIA (PDF) - Created by the CIA's History Staff, this 230 page book was released by the CIA in 2006. It offers an in-depth and detailed look into the life and operations of Richard Helms.

In the Media

  • During the House Select Committee on CIA/Mafia Assassination plots, Helms admitted in 1979, under oath, that Clay Shaw worked for the CIA, a claim Shaw initially denied. Shaw was a suspected conspirator in John Kennedy's assassination.
  • Helms was portrayed by actor Sam Waterston in a memorable scene in the 1995 film Nixon, deleted from the original release but included in the director's cut DVD.
  • The character Richard Hayes, portrayed by actor Lee Pace in the 2006 film The Good Shepherd, was loosely based on Helms.


  1. ^ Nixon White House Tapes January 1973, Nixon Presidential Library & Museum, released on 23 Jun 2009,

External links

Government offices
Preceded by
Vice Adm. William Raborn
Director of Central Intelligence
June 30, 1966 - February 02, 1973
Succeeded by
James R. Schlesinger

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